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“A Rainy Day in New York” is the first film written and directed by Woody Allen to open in the U.S. since “Wonder Wheel” in 2017. Prior to that Allen had released at least one film every year since 1982.
Allen sued Amazon Studios when they refused to release “A Rainy Day in New York” following renewed controversy around the filmmaker stemming from the longstanding allegation that Allen molested his daughter Dylan Farrow in 1992. Numerous actors from the film publicly expressed regret for participating in the project and donated their salaries to charity.
The movie has long since already opened all around the world — I first saw it on an international flight about a year ago — and is only now being released domestically via MPI Media Group and Signature Entertainment. And since it’s now opening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with indoor theaters still closed in Los Angeles, the nearest bookings for opening weekend in California appear to be San Diego and Santa Cruz. All of which is a burdensome amount of backstory for a movie that is meant to be little more than a playfully mild romantic comedy.
In the film, young Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet) is attending a small liberal arts college where he met his girlfriend Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning), daughter of a prominent Arizona banking family. When she lands an interview in New York City with a beloved arthouse filmmaker (Liev Schreiber) for their school paper, Gatsby makes plans for them to spend the weekend together in the city while avoiding his own well-to-do family. As her interview stretches into a series of adventures with the filmmaker, a screenwriter (Jude Law) and heartthrob actor (Diego Luna), Gatsby kills time with an ex-girlfriend’s younger sister (Selena Gomez).
And yes, it rains quite a bit, causing the characters to dart about the streets and into doorways, clothes becoming wet and hair becoming mussed. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, on his third film with Allen, creates a magical feeling of stormy unpredictability, as Allen’s longtime collaborators such as production designer Santo Loquasto, costume designer Suzy Benzinger and editor Alisa Lepselter also make great contributions to the film’s world of warm, cozy privilege.
In “Rainy Day,” Allen misses what might have been an interesting twist on his own work. Chalamet frequently extols how much he likes old things, old movies and books and music, even seeing his gambling habit as some sort of charming, Damon Runyon-esque affectation. These are all Allen’s fixations, of course, regardless of how they work for a 20-something in the 21st century.
Ashleigh is by far the more interesting character, and Fanning certainly gives the more energetic, engaging performance as a screwball heroine who keeps mixing up the names of luxury hotels in New York. Gatsby, and the movie itself, unceremoniously leaves her shortly after she mistakes a Cole Porter lyric for Shakespeare.
As Ashleigh has her fantastic adventure — an interview becomes an invitation to a screening and then a party and continues on — Gatsby just mopes, upset that she is upending the plans he had made for them rather than acknowledging the fact that something exciting is happening for her. He comes off as pushy and self-centered in the way that so many Allen heroes now seem in retrospect. (And likely damaged countless young men over the years.) At one point Chalamet sits at a piano and sings the standard “Everything Happens To Me” as a maudlin lament.
In a fluke of timing, Allen’s “Rainy Day” is finally reaching American audiences at the same time as Sofia Coppola’s “On The Rocks.” Both movies feature the famed Bemelmens Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, songs of plaintive jazz vocals and the city as a backdrop of real places and fantasy encounters. Yet Coppola injects it all with a modernity and inquisitiveness, a feeling of contemporary relevance, that Allen simply cannot muster.
“A Rainy Day In New York” is lowest-tier Allen, certainly unworthy of any perception as the embattled work it has become. Would it have been better if the film simply remained shelved in the U.S., like the still-unreleased “I Love You, Daddy” written and directed by Louis C.K.? (A film for which Allen claims in his recent memoir “Apropos of Nothing” that he turned down the role of a pervy film director with a thing for younger girls ultimately played by John Malkovich.)
As with even the worst of Allen’s films, there is just enough to satiate fans and make the whole thing seem maybe, possibly worth the effort. The competing Allen impressions by Chalamet and Law, Fanning’s ditzy riff on Diane Keaton, Gomez’s cheerful disdain, and Schreiber’s contrarian anti-Allen take on a film director as a stony enigma all have their moments.
It’s actually been nice to have a break from Woody Allen. The abrasive petulance of his memoir only underscored his ongoing refusal to reflect or grow, while the indifferent writing and direction of “A Rainy Day In New York” feels like more of the same. Of course, Allen recently premiered a new film at Spain’s San Sebastian Film Festival, “Rifkin’s Festival,” set at the festival and filmed in San Sebastian. As of now it has no U.S. distribution.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.