New York is often in the movies, and nearly as often is described as a "character" in those movies. Manhattan's skyline boasts instant recognition. The mythology of the place is barely larger than its reality.

The thing about this aura is that if you believe the movies, New York City's boundaries extend roughly from Houston Street to the lower half of Central Park, from Eighth Avenue to Second Avenue. If you believe most New York movies, then all New Yorkers are hardened gangsters, hopelessly quirky artists, or young, gorgeous professionals with bottomless bank accounts and curiously enormous amounts of free time. Boroughs? Old people? Families? Not here.

Of course, that's not what the city is like at all. Cities, by nature, defy easy characterization. New York has children, old people, poor people, workaholics, and the rest, just like every other place. New York is more than Manhattan. And cities are more than their on-screen incarnations.

Ethan Hawke, Emilie Ohana

Ethan Hawke, Emilie Ohana

That's why the project to which New York, I Love You and its predecessor Paris, je t'aime belong is so appropriate. NYILY is the second in a series of films about love and cities around the world. The Paris installment was a collection of five-minute films named after the city's arrondissements that explored the concept of love—romance, families, imaginary, mythological, or love for the city itself.

This new Big Apple-based project reinvents the concept for a new city. Appropriately, this one is bigger and faster than its predecessor, with a harder edge. Its segments weave together; characters from earlier stories occasionally meander into another story. Everyone is connected, loosely or more permanently—and sometimes in surprising ways.

This format evokes the spirit of a diverse cosmopolitan city like New York or Paris. There are few enduring bigshots in towns like these. The first thing a New York newbie learns is to ignore celebrities. The most interesting people often fly under the radar, and everyone has a story. Experience is fragmented—a snatch of a conversation here, a chance meeting there, a look across a subway car—and so a series of short films create a patchwork not unlike the diversity of life and of the population.

Julie Christie, Shia LeBeouf

Julie Christie, Shia LeBeouf

NYILY tells stories of New Yorkers looking for love—the heartbroken teenager who needs a prom date; the cigarette break pick-up line artist; the Hassidic Jewish woman and the Indian man who are sorting out love in their own cultures; the thief; the lonely immigrant shop assistant; the couple whose marriage is on the rocks. The segments—starring a dizzying array of screen luminaries and directed and written by an assortment of accomplished filmmakers—range from comic, to ultrarealistic, to surrealist, to snappy, to heartwarming.

The film's tagline is "every moment another story begins," and this is one of the most striking differences between New York, I Love You and Paris, je t'aime. This is cinematic jazz, a series of variations on a theme, with recurring character and placement riffs, emphasizing the chance nature of life in New York that still seems strangely purposeful.

So it's sad, and peculiar, that NYILY fails to enchant the way its predecessor did. New York is more diverse, more populated, and at least as legendary as Paris. It is also perhaps more overexposed to audiences than Paris, and certainly less picturesque on the ground level, which accounts for the somewhat lackluster feel. And while some of the segments are well constructed, the overall quality is simply uneven, and the transitions between segments sometimes verge on the contrived.

Christina Ricci, Orlando Bloom

Christina Ricci, Orlando Bloom

However, NYILY plays with an important concept—love in a modern city—and examines it from all angles, drawing no conclusions but exposing a variety of experiences. These stories do not just deal with love; they really deal with the concept of love. What does love mean to different people? What is everyone looking for? The answers range from the predictable (puppy love, sex) to the more sinister (obsession, stalking, and thievery) to the sublime (commitment, companionship, and renewal). 

Those who loved Paris, je t'aime will find in NYILY some familiar themes and concepts. And though it's less charming than Paris, the film still asks important questions about what, at its core, motivates most of us: the desire to love and be loved. Even in a big city.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What sort of shape does the search for love take in your community? Where do you look for love?

  2. Which segments in the film do you feel represented a right view of love? Which represented a misguided view?

  3. How can a film such as this inspire compassion in you for those who do not know where to find true love? Where can true love be found? What model did Jesus give us for encountering those who are looking for love in the wrong places? (See Mark 2:13-17.)

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

New York, I Love You is rated R for language and sexual content. There are some frank depictions and sometimes explicit discussions of sex, most between unmarried couples, including a pair of teenagers. One character is a prostitute. There are profanities throughout. One of the segments depicts an imagined suicide.

New York, I Love You
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for language and sexual content)
Directed By
Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Randall Balsmeyer
Run Time
1 hour 43 minutes
Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Bradley Cooper
Theatre Release
October 16, 2009 by Samuel Goldwyn Pictures
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