10 mini-romances, set in N.Y.

Posted: October 16, 2009

 New York, I Love You – the second (after 2006's Paris, je t'aime) in a proposed "Cities of Love" series - is more diverting than lovable.

Crammed with starry passengers such as James Caan, Julie Christie, Bradley Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman, and Eli Wallach, the film is an omnibus ride through Brighton Beach, Central Park, the West Village, and Tribeca.

The film samples 10 mini-romantic dramas directed by nine filmmakers, among them Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, and Brett Ratner. A 10th filmmaker, Randy Balsmeyer, made the wry transitions that link together segments variously about flirtation, sexual fantasy, married passion, and parental love.

The result is a dinner of appetizers that are individually tasty, if not completely satisfying.

For a movie advertising geographical specificity, the settings are oddly generic. Except for a sequence with strangers sharing a cab and bickering over the fastest route to the Williamsburg Bridge, the film might be set in any major metropolis.

Commendably, it features characters from a broad age spectrum, ranging from high school seniors (Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby in Ratner's episode) to senior citizens (Wallach and Cloris Leachman in Marston's).

Yet the lovers are principally Caucasian and all heterosexual, only partly representative of New York's diversity of ethnic and sexual flavors.

On the plus side, this new sampler is a terrific showcase for appealing actors in one-act playlets, many of which have O. Henry-like surprise endings.

In Nair's chastely erotic segment, Irrfan Khan (The Namesake) and Portman sparkle as a Jain stonecutter and Orthodox Jewish gem dealer haggling - and flirting - over the price of a diamond.

Israeli filmmaker Yvan Attal scores with two strikingly similar episodes, with strikingly different denouements. One features motormouth Hawke trying his damnedest to pick up amused beauty Maggie Q on a SoHo street corner. The other costars Robin Wright Penn as a disillusioned wife making an overture to curious stranger Chris Cooper outside a Village eatery. Attal composes both brief encounters like chamber-music duets.

Portman's underwritten vignette as a director involves a dad (Carlos Acosta) and his daughter (Taylor Geare) whose relationship is misunderstood by the Mommy squad in Central Park. It is the only episode that touches on race, and it is, alas, heavy-handed.

While the less said the better about Ratner's cheerfully vulgar episode involving a prom afterparty, Fatih Akin's poetic segment of an artist (Ugur Yücel) and his muse (Qi Shu) is resonant and haunting.

It may be a mixed bag, but New York, I Love You is well worth looking into.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at crickey@phillynews.com or 215-854-5402. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.

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