Principal Cast : Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna, Liev Schreiber, Kelly Rorbach, Annaleigh Ashford, Rebecca Hall, Cherry Jones, Will Rogers, Suki Waterhouse, Ben Warheit, Griffin Newman, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Don Stephenson.
Synopsis: A young couple arrive in New York for a weekend where they are met with bad weather and a series of adventures and misadventures.
For a man who uses New York City as his muse, director Woody Allen sure knows how to work that baby for the dollars. A Rainy Day In New York is vintage Allen, at his most Woody Allen-ish, supplanting himself as the central melancholy hero and inserting rising star Timothee Chalamet (The King, Call Me By Your Name) into the leading role. As always, Allen writes and directs a bucolic, sentimental fantasy of New York City’s allure and the dashing intellectual residing within it, and for a time it all feels quite magical. But the sentimentality only goes so far, as does the flowery, incredibly specific dialogue (you can literally feel Chalamet channelling the bespectacled director’s speech patterns, is so bizarre) leaving little by way of memorable moments to mention when all’s said and done.
Wealthy Yale student Gatsby Welles (Chalamet) and his Arizona-born girlfriend Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning) arrive in New York City for the weekend, with Ashleigh intending to interview acclaimed film director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) for her college paper. Gatsby, far more worldly than his innocent girlfriend, shows Ashleigh the sights of the city in order to avoid attending a party with his parents, particularly his mother (Cherry Jones) with whom he has an atheistic relationship. When the pair are split up due to circumstance, Gatsby meets up with the sister of an ex-girlfriend, Shannon (Selena Gomez) and the pair bond through a fractious series of dialogues, whilst Ashleigh ends up across town hunting an absent Pollard via his assistant, Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), before meeting film star Francisco Vega (Diego Luna) for a drunken flirtation.
A Rainy Day In New York suffered a lot from its timing with Hollywood’s #MeToo movement; completed in 2017, it was released only last year in a wave of bad publicity generated largely by a surging rekindled interest in director Woody Allen’s alleged misconduct surrounding his affair with – and eventual marriage to – step-daughter Soon Yi Previn some twenty years earlier, as well as an accusation of sexual assault dating back to 1992. Amazon Studios, the initial distributor of the film, shelved the project indefinitely due to the controversy at the time, and was sued by Allen for lost earnings before the case was dismissed, whilst most of the main cast either spoke out strongly about working with Allen, or donated most or all of their salary to causes close to the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. The film thus slid quietly into cinemas with minimal fanfare or marketing throughout the back end of 2019, a remarkable decline for a director who, in his heyday, once captured the very soul of America.
In all honesty, for a film tainted so badly, it’s not entirely unremarkable. A New York-city set story in which the hoi poloi of social standing are presented as esoteric and eccentric Everypeople to a degree that’s vaguely insulting? Sure, that’s Allen’s shtick, and in this film he once more parses the verbally extravagant with the intellectually profound but instead of a kooky or clever narrative with sublime comedic intrigue, this movie comes off like a prodigiously budgeted Allen fan-film. None of the characters here are particularly well developed, a “fairy tale” version of New York’s elitist pretension on display to a degree that’s at first charming but eventually wearisome, whilst the top-line ensemble cast are exquisite in their delivery and manner despite floundering within the flimsy framework of a plot. Part of the film’s chief failing is character motivation: what drives these people? We never really know (although Elle Fanning’s erstwhile reporter caricature kinda outstays its welcome in trying to provide a canvas for Allen to paint his thick-brushed portraiture) and by the end of the film we don’t care: the film exists for its own sake, a vanity project (like many of Allen’s more recent films, I think) devoid of truth when fantasy provides far more salacious storytelling.
Timothee Chalamet’s hideously named Gatsby Welles – seriously, any modern kid with that name would be laughed out of society everywhere – has the actor give him a self-important seriousness that belies reputedly hidden depths, although those hidden depths are coral-reef shallow. Chalamet needs better material than this to thrive (admittedly, he was still virtually unknown during the film’s production) and aside from some tongue-twisting monologuing and superficial conversational exposition between he and a horribly miscast Selena Gomez, he feels kinda ambivalent to the overall film. Gomez’ role as “the other woman” in Gatsby’s time in New York isn’t without a certain charm, but the actress isn’t provided a well rounded enough character to really make the conflicting emotional states work well, which is more to do with the director. I still didn’t buy her in the role anyway, but for what it was I guess one could be thankful for small mercies. Elle Fanning does a good job in the thankless role of ditzy Ashleigh, forced to flit between various leading men (including a nonsensical Jude Law, a solid Liev Schreiber, and a sultry but irritatingly inadequate Diego Luna) to flesh out her character arc. To the film’s detriment, she becomes simply another object of lust and allure, rather than a fully fleshed out female character with something meaningful to say. If it was meant as a comedic role, Allen’s sense of humour deserted him utterly in either writing or filming her scenes.
Exactly what Woody Allen was trying to say with this film is obscured by indifferent dialogue and character development. One senses it’s a Seinfeld film (ie. about nothing) but wrapped up with nice casting and some fabulous New York locations. Only it falls too flat, undercooks a lot of the supposed twists and introduces meaningless and trifling characters for entire scenes of garbled pseudo-intellectualism. All with that unmistakable Woody Allen insecurity and inscrutably specific dialogue. At one point a character points to a piano and says “Can I play the piano” to which another character replies “Sure, it’s a family heirloom”, a line of dialogue nobody in the entirety of history has ever uttered when being asked if their piano can be played. What’s the point of specifying it as a family heirloom? To add provenance to the film’s sense of style? It’s this kind of stuff that is both fascinating and annoying about Woody Allen’s style, and he overplays it here. It’s period era dialogue brought directly into the modern world without even the slightest attempt to dilute it to our current sensibility, and the effect can be, and often is, quite jarring. The trivial nature of human emotion seems to be the subtext of the film, but it’s hard to make out with the superfluous characters (in many ways, this entire film could be a bizarre reprise of, or homage to, Tom Cruise’s solo voyage through London’s dark underbelly in Eyes Wide Shut) that come and go and add literally nothing to the story.
The giddy sense of optimism with which the film opens soon gives way to a mean-streak of narcissism and brooding melancholy, and the film’s sodden downbeat ending will undoubtedly put a few people off (hopefully those people still watched Match Point) to the point of actively disliking it. The characters aren’t realistic enough to hook us with their plight as things start to take tragic and inevitably coercive turns, and the fantasy instilled by a terrific opening can’t hold over the deeply uninteresting realism the film’s latter act aspires to. Terribly uneven, offhanded and ultimately unrewarding, A Rainy Day In New York fails to rise above its own bad press and remains firmly entrenched in the middle-ground of Allen’s oeuvre.
© 2020, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.