|Director: Woody Allen |
|Screenplay: Woody Allen|
|Stars: Timothée Chalamet (Gatsby Welles), Elle Fanning (Ashleigh), Selena Gomez (Chan), Liev Schreiber (Roland Pollard), Jude Law (Ted Davidoff), Griffin Newman (Josh), Will Rogers (Hunter), Annaleigh Ashford (Lily), Rebecca Hall (Connie), Diego Luna (Francisco Vega), Kelly Rohrbach (Terry), Cherry Jones (Gatsby’s Mother)|
|MPAA Rating: PG-13 |
|Year of Release: 2019 (Europe) / 2020 (U.S.)|
Woody Allen’s latest film, A Rainy Day in New York, which has been playing in Europe since last year, is finally getting a belated U.S. release after Amazon Studios dropped it in the wake of renewed focus on accusations against Allen of child molestation. One side has cried about censorship while the other side has cried about aiding and abetting a child molester, and it’s too bad the movie wasn’t better and therefore worthy of all the hubbub. As it turns out, A Rainy Day in New York is, at best, mediocre Woody Allen, recycling a lot of ideas, themes, and obsessions and trying to make it feel fresh with a young cast that struggles mightily to convey Allen’s self-conscious dialogue in a way that sounds even remotely natural.
The film’s protagonist is the dramatically named Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet), a college student from the Upper East Side who prefers gambling, jazz, and old movies to the kinds of high culture and literature that his overbearing mother has tried to instill in him his whole life. Gatsby is another in a long line of on-screen Allen stand-ins, none of whom—whether they be Kenneth Branagh or Will Ferrell or Larry David or Jason Biggs—have ever seemed fully comfortable in the director’s unique shoes. Chalamet does his best to make the character his own, and his primarily accomplishment is not making Gatsby, who is too smart by half and all too aware of it, not entirely insufferable. He is currently enrolled at Yardley, a fictional upstate liberal arts college that he not-so-secretly despises, although he suffers it because his girlfriend, Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), a chipper blonde aspiring journalist, is there.
The film stumbles right out of the gate, as there is little to suggest that Gatsby would have any interest in someone like Ashleigh, who doesn’t know the difference between a Cole Porter lyric and a line from Shakespeare. Nevertheless, Gatsby informs us in unnecessary voice-over that he is in love with Ashleigh, and he can’t wait to take her to New York City to show her his hometown, which he loves with the kind of genuine affection that makes him a true Allen protagonist (he speaks affectionately of cloudy skies and ambulance sirens). Ashleigh has received the unlikely school newspaper assignment of going to New York to interview Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), a world-renowned art film director in Jean-Luc Godard shades. Roland is suffering an intense bout of ennui, and he somehow sees Ashleigh as a muse, and soon she is being drawn into his cloistered world of tortured artists and high-society sycophants, which puts her at the various mercies of Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), a neurotic screenwriter, and Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), a smarmy and libidinous movie star.
Meanwhile, Gatsby, feeling jilted, spends the titular rainy day moping around New York, visiting his older brother, Hunter (Will Rogers), who wants to dump his fiancée because he doesn’t like her laugh, and spending time with Chan (Selena Gomez), the younger sister of an old high school girlfriend who is capable of dishing as much world-weary, wise-beyond-her-years, cynical discourse as Gatsby—which, of course, means that she is perfect for him, even if he doesn’t immediately see it. The Gatsby-Ashleigh-Chan triangle poses a dramatic dilemma of little weight since Gatsby and Ashleigh are so clearly mismatched, but Allen still works hard to make sure we want them to go their separate ways by the film’s end, which is why Ashleigh, who is often giggly and insecure and awkward (Fanning actually delivers a pretty good comical performance), lets herself get drawn into the debauched world of Hollywood shenanigans, the world of egos and faux art that Allen has already skewered many times in the past.
Not surprisingly, Allen treats the film as a kind of New York City Greatest Hits, and we get all the camera-ready essentials—Central Park, the Met, the Carlyle Hotel—reminding us again and again that we are in the rarefied world of the 1% (the film’s one genuinely honest moment is when Chan confronts Gatsby about the inherent vacuousness of his rich-boy pseudo-rebellion, although the film never goes anywhere with it). The story’s cloistered, rarefied ecosystem is made all the more striking by the gorgeous, golden-hued cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, the multi-Oscar winning veteran lenser of many a Coppola and Bertolucci epic who has shot several of Allen’s recent films, including Café Society (2016) and Wonder Wheel (2017). A Rainy Day in New York, with its streaked windows and refracted sunlight and enormous amber interiors, looks great, which makes its dramatic substance feel all the more flimsy and anachronistic (I was just waiting for one of the twentysomething characters to talk about “making love,” and I wasn’t disappointed). Of course, at this point, it would be pointless to expect something different from Allen, who clearly relishes the track (or rut) he has laid over the past five decades and isn’t about to deviate from it, no matter how redundant and limiting it has long since become.
Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick
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