Thursday, October 22, 2009

"New York, I Love You", I like you but I don't love you

Perhaps it's not fair that I judge this film. I feel so close to the source material for the movie that it's hard to not have preconceived notions of what it should be. Then again, maybe that's why I feel as if I know what I'm talking about.

Like "Paris, je t'aime","New York, I Love You" is a collection of short films based on and in the city of New York. Or should I say Manhattan because only one of the segments is set in one of the other boroughs. And the people worth showing seem to almost exclusively be rich, white people.

To me, that's one of the crippling flaws of the movie. New York is a city swathed in diversity, not just racially, but also economically and ideologically. But here we see a gentrified Asian (who happens to be a hooker) or another Asian girl who only serves to be fetishized by a white guy.

Whereas the Paris installment was wonderfully diverse in its subject matter and approach, this film rarely strays out of it's comfort zone. It's as if the filmmakers were drawing inspiration not out of the city but of what they've seen on "Sex and the City".

The actors and directors all seemed too self-aware. Thus the effort at creating random, chance encounters comes off as contrived. Hayden Christensen's character pick-pocketing Andy Garcia's character only to court Andy's girlfriend resulting in the two guys pick-pocketing each other again was too intricate and perfect of a mobius strip to not have been written out to happen exactly that way.

Another scene that had me rolling my eyes was when two smokers outside of a restaurant interact when the beautiful woman looks over to the disinterested man and kicks off a conversation with "You know what I love about New York?"

Uuuuuugh! When does a conversation like that happen except in a movie touting what it loves about New York?

The one segment that really worked for me was of the elderly couple in Coney Island. Their bickering and banter rang true to me, and it was refreshing to see a setting not in the middle of Manhattan.

The short that attempts to subvert the predefined roles is the Natalie Portman directed story about a Hispanic male nanny and his little girl. Another effort at cross pollination of races also involves Portman but the effect is dulled by the overly dramatic and sappy revelation.

But these highlights were too little and too late.

During the film, I kept waiting to see parts of the city that I consider to be the genuine fabric of the New York experience. Where were the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, or even Harlem! Where were the street vendors and subway performers? When has a cabbie ever expressed any interest in your profession? Where were the masses of hipsters crowded in a pizza parlor at 4am? Where were the Puerto Ricans playing dominoes outside their buildings? Where were the insane bike messengers? Where were the restaurants where each table was speaking a different language than the next? I even missed the Park Slope stroller brigades. Where was the freaking Brooklyn Bridge???

In the end, the film to me was a good attempt and a safe, fuzzy view of a small slice of the city. But it failed to dispel any preconceived ideas or convey any genuine experience of New York.