This is an "omnibus" or "portmanteau" film, in which twenty international directors were assigned to each make a short filmed in one of Paris' 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods) – although two were dropped from the final film as their shorts apparently didn't fit in. Nevertheless, as with most features like this, you're not really watching one movie as much as you are sitting through a short film festival. Which is fine, because just as with any collection of short films, there are some brilliant parts of Paris, je t'aime, some boring parts, some pretentious parts, some interesting parts, and some awful parts.
Unlike a short film festival, however, one still has expectations that the film will maintain a certain consistency. And although the producers of this film did a pretty good job in assembling the wide variety of filmic styles and stories into a cohesive "group show", the film itself doesn't build to much. Still, there are enough great moments in Paris, je t'aime to compensate for the weaker ones and make the film, on the whole, worth seeing.
The standout shorts for me were mostly the ones with little-known French actors speaking French. The fact that half the cast and seemingly half the directors hail from Hollywood only serves to distract. Presumably the producers lured in big American stars in order to obtain better funding and wider distribution, but whereas actors like Natalie Portman and Steve Buscemi fit into the film's recurring theme of Americans abroad, I kept asking myself, "Why Nick Nolte, when a French actor would have made more sense? Why Bob Hoskins? Why Maggie Gyllenhaal?"
The first two segments, about a lonely man in Montmartre who meets a strange woman and a young lad hanging out near the Seine falling in love with a Muslim girl, bring the film off to a charming start; from there the film has its ups and downs: there's a funny but mean segment from the Coen Brothers, an unbearably bad short from cinematographer/Asian fetishist Christopher Doyle, a beautiful passage from Isabel Coixet about a man about to leave his wife, and so on.
The film ends on a particularly poignant note, with Alexander Payne's segment about a chubby American tourist (character actress Margo Martindale) who wanders Paris alone and has something of an epiphany. It's funny – Martindale narrates in hilariously bad French – sad, touching, and sweet. It's by far the best of all the short films, in my opinion, and I think the producers must have agreed, since they wisely chose it to close the film. But it's so good that it only had me wishing that Paris, je t'aime could have reached such heights more often.