The second installment in the I LOVE YOU series appears at first to be a mere variety-pack of sad-funny vignettes but occasionally it veers into territory explored by such other recent films as Paul Haggis's CRASH or Michael Hanecke's CODE INCONNU, wherein disparate inhabitants of a large city cross paths, not only affecting each other's lives in unexpected ways, but feeding into a larger overall story.
Most of these New York City stories manage to wrap up with a twist. This O. Henry-style surprise element is the structural key that gives several segments their sense of closure, especially in Yvan Attal's two-part entry about encounters between smokers outside a restaurant. In one encounter, Ethan Hawke as a fast-talking young writer brazenly tries to pick up a woman (Maggie Q) with unexpected results; in the other, Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn share some tantalizing conversation with an equally unexpected resolution.
Almost as good are a strange prom date between an awkward boy (Anton Yelchin) and the wheelchair-bound daughter (Olivia Thirlby) of an eccentric, pushy pharmacist (James Caan) and a slick bit wherein Hayden Christensen as a smart alecky pickpocket goes up against Andy Garcia as a college professor who turns the tables on him in the manner of Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall in the 1932 classic TROUBLE IN PARADISE.
Standing apart from all other segments is the lovely character study of a married couple (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman) bickering gently as they walk to the seashore to commemorate their 63rd wedding anniversary – beautiful acting by two old masters.
In Allen Hughes's segment there is some excellent internal monologue writing by Alexandra Cassavetes and Stephen Winter about two insecure people on their way to their second date with each other, wonderfully enacted by Drea De Matteo and Bradley Cooper.
Other segments - including Mira Nair's with Natalie Portman as a Hassidic Jew momentarily smitten with a Jain diamond merchant (Irrfan Khan) on the eve of her wedding, and Shekhar Kapur's with Julie Christie as an aging singer who checks into an ethereal hotel staffed by a crippled Shia LeBouef and a haggard John Hurt – have their moments, but peter off into nowhere. Too bad the reunion of Christie and Hurt almost exactly 40 years after their only other co-starring film, IN SEARCH OF GREGORY, couldn't at least have shown them together clearly, from the front, in the same frame, just once.
Other than one episode in Brighton Beach and one in Chinatown, the action takes place in well-heeled sections of Manhattan. The black and Puerto-Rican population is barely represented, though the age range of subjects covers about 7 through about 90. The boroughs of the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are ignored completely. Few of the stories concern themselves with themes or situations unique to New York. Most of them could just as easily take place in London or Berlin or Buenos Aires or Tokyo. But the rapidly shifting focus, the large and interesting cast and occasional sharp writing, keep one reasonably entertained despite the occasional misfires.