Friday, October 9, 2020

Stubs - A Rainy Day in New York

A Rainy Day in New York (2019) Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna, Liev Schreiber. Directed by Woody Allen. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson, Erika Aronson. USA Run time: 92 minutes. Color. Romantic Comedy

Woody Allen has gone from a loveable schlub to a pervert in the eyes of many based on an unfounded claim of incestual pedophilia. Having read his autobiography, Apropos of Nothing (2020), I’m more convinced than ever of his innocence but in the age of #MeToo, even unproven allegations are enough to derail a career. Ask Al Franken about that as well.

While Allen has managed to continue to make films, it has become much harder than it had been in the past to find financing and distribution. Case in point, A Rainy Day in New York, which was filmed in 2018 and was to be distributed by Amazon Studios. But based on the controversy, they halted the release. The film would eventually come out, first released in Poland on July 26, 2019, with the U.S. release scheduled for October 9, 2020.

It should come as no surprise that the film itself is not controversial. The story revolves around two Yeardley college sweethearts Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet) and Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning) who plan to spend a romantic weekend in New York City when she goes to town to interview a brooding filmmaker, Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber).

Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet) and Ashleigh Enright
(Elle Fanning)  are young lovers in A Rainy Day in New York.

Gatsby, who is a native of New York, wants to show the town to Ashleigh, a Tucson native while avoiding his parents who are throwing their annual ball. A young man with an old soul, Gatsby likes things Woody Allen does, like listening to piano playing at the Carlisle and old movies. Ashleigh is pretty with a certain naiveite that men like Pollard, his screenwriter Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), and actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna) are attracted to. What started out as a scheduled hour-long interview with Pollard ends several hours later with her escaping out of Vega’s apartment with only a raincoat over her bra and panties. 

While the film may have been intended to be a romantic comedy, it is more a slice-of-life. Gatsby may not know it but he’s looking for something that he may or may not find in the arms of an ex-girlfriend’s younger sister Chan Tyrell (Selena Gomez).

Gatsby Welles, a great character name, is the Woody Allen persona in the film. It is obvious from his first words in the narration that holds the film together. Timothée Chalamet, who would later denounce his participation in the film, is interesting in the role. He is not without his charms as an actor and he brings a youthful take to a role that we’ve seen in various forms throughout the years. And, like Allen’s own persona, he can’t stay away from his beloved New York.

Elle Fanning is good as Ashleigh, someone who manages to find herself in over her head but not realizing she’s drowning in the affection of men who each want something different from her: her soul, her heart, and her body.  As with many of Allen’s films, there are callbacks to other films as well. In this case, Ashleigh is very reminiscent of Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall character in the film with the same name, though I think Annie had a little more on the ball.

Selena Gomez is fine as Chan and, while I know it’s a bit of a stretch it seems to me that the character was probably drawn from Allen’s own relationship with Soon-Yi, which is the catalyst for the backlash against him.  Like Soon-Yi, Chan is not the original attraction but once discovered, she and Gatsby seem to be a matched pair.

Chan Tyrell (Selena Gomez) is the younger sister of an ex-girlfriend of Gatsby's.

Woody Allen as a director is back in his element. New York City is his favorite backdrop and he knows how to show it off in the best way possible. Every interior is gorgeous in their own way, from the modern austerity of his brother’s brownstone to the elegance of Chan’s parent’s large floorplan to the opulence of his parent’s home to the hotels and the museums.  Everything looks good through the lens of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. After watching one of Allen’s films based in Manhattan you can’t help but want to go there yourself, as everything seems not only beautiful but possible there, at least in his vision of the city.

In their own way, Allen’s films can have a certain glamour to them that we associate with classic Hollywood cinema. As with old movies, liquor flows freely, people talk smartly and everything can be made right by finding love. To quote the movie, and perhaps Allen’s philosophy of life, “while you only live once, once is enough if you find the right person.”

Watching A Rainy Day in New York, I was reminded somewhat of one of my favorite Allen films, Hannah and Her Sisters. The difference is that watching Hannah was more like reading a great novel, and Rainy Day is more like reading a novella. The film doesn’t really have a solid three-act structure with characters being introduced more by the time of day rather than plot. As an example, Francisco Vega isn’t introduced until nearly an hour into the film and his introduction is more chance meeting than anything else.

I have been looking forward to seeing the film to the point that I imported a Blu-ray from Amazon UK to see it, not realizing a U.S. release was even planned. I will say that I enjoyed the film but it is not one of Allen’s best. The screenplay doesn’t try to delve too deeply into anyone’s psyche but rather feels like a stone skipping across the surface of a body of water, only creating little ripples along the way. Sometimes characters' motivations are driven more by chance than determination on their part. As carefree as it seems, the experiences of a rainy day in New York are not enough to base one’s future on.

If you have a chance to see A Rainy Day in New York, I would recommend that you see it but realize it is not the best work in Allen’s oeuvre. That said it is still a pleasant way to spend an evening or an afternoon when you have to stay in during inclement weather.


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