Even when I had reservations about most of Woody Allen’s films in recent decades, and came to realize how his limitations as a person and an artist were gradually dominating his work, I never thought a movie of his would descend to the triviality of “A Rainy Day in New York.”
In a sense, this triviality actually made it easier to watch the 49th film by the 83-year-old director, which was released over the weekend in Israel. That’s because if his two previous films – “Café Society” and “Wonder Wheel” – like most of their predecessors caused frustration due to the gap between an impetuous intention and its botched fulfillment, the 92 minutes of his latest effort pass quickly without stirring a reaction – except for surprise.
If “A Rainy Day in New York” aspires to be a situation comedy, the situations lack any comical element. If it intends to be a romantic comedy, the blend of the comic and the romantic seems forced and lacks any stable basis in the script.
In Allen’s long career, has there ever been a scene as forced and illogical as the one toward the end between the young protagonist (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother (Cherry Jones) in which a revelation is supposed to change their relationship for the better? In all of Allen’s work, has there ever been a worse-written scene than the one where the character played by Jude Law discovers that his wife (Rebecca Hall) is cheating on him with his best friend, and he confronts her in the street?
If “A Rainy Day in New York” was angling to be another love ballad by Allen to Manhattan, even when the sky above is dark with rain, it seems this time Woody’s Manhattan is more a La La Land. It exists only in the nostalgia that floods Allen’s consciousness, even if the film takes place in the present.
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Allen’s movie won’t be screened in Manhattan, along with the rest of the United States. The reasons for this have been widely reported, beginning with Amazon Studios’ dropping of the film amid renewed complaints by Dylan and Ronan Farrow about their stepfather’s alleged abuse of Dylan when she was 7. Then there’s Chalamet’s ensuing decision to donate his salary from the film to three organizations that help victims of sexual harassment.
While watching the movie it’s impossible to ignore all this, or the #MeToo movement; it’s impossible not to wonder how Allen included a moment where Chalemet tries to figure out why young women tend to be attracted to older men.
If “A Rainy Day in New York” had been a better movie, would I have been able to forget all this and discuss the film like any other? That question will remain open, because Allen’s new film is really not good.
The movie tells the story of two students in a relationship at a fictitious college in New York State. He is Gatsby Welles (Chalemet), the son of a very wealthy and distinguished family, and she is Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning), who hails from Arizona. He, a pensive young man, has yet to decide what he wants to do in life, and she’s a cascade of incessant optimism. If I were forced to spend 15 minutes in her effervescent company, I’d bolt.
Is it reasonable to assume that a distinguished New York family would name their son after Jay Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s enigmatic, marginally criminal hero? And if so, what’s the connection?
And why Welles of all the last names that could have been given to the lead role? Again, what’s the connection, except for the fact that Gatsby and Ashleigh are young people who exist without social media and contemporary cinema and music?
Ashleigh’s favorite director is Akira Kurosawa, and Gatsby lives in a world of classic Hollywood movies. Who are these two young people? Do they exist solely in the imagination of Woody Allen and represent some dream he has of a world that doesn’t exist?
Ashleigh works as a reporter for the college newspaper, and she goes into a frenzy when she has an opportunity to interview Roland Pollard, one of the greatest American directors, upon the release of his new film. Why a major director would give an interview to a cub reporter for a college newspaper is a question the movie doesn’t address.
The interview is supposed to take place in a Manhattan hotel over the weekend, and Gatsby and Ashleigh travel to Manhattan together so that after the interview the city slicker can present the wonders of his town to the child of the wilderness. In one of the film's only successful comic moments, one character asks Gatsby: What do you guys talk about? Cactuses?
“A Rainy Day in New York” is so anachronistic that its very anachronism could have provided some degree of charm. But the film fails on this point, and the result seems to have surfaced from another planet where Woody Allen is the only inhabitant. This planet recedes ever further with every movie he makes.
“A Rainy Day in New York.” Written and directed by Woody Allen; Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro; Editing: Alisa Lepselter