Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
As long-festering allegations of sexual misconduct continue to plague Woody Allen, the auteur of yesteryear finds a way to keep making movies. “A Rainy Day in New York,” a light farcical romance, contains very little of the genius that cemented him in cinematic history.
With all respect to the talented, influential director, the audience isn't interested in this movie because of him. The draw here is superstar Timothée Chalamet, slated for a blockbuster turn in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” prior to it moving to October of next year. While fans get plenty of Chalamet here, they may be confused by what they hear him say.
“A Rainy Day in New York” occurs in the present (one naturally without the pervasive, menacing virus). The characters use iPhones and meander around in the modern city. But they continuously reference music and movies from another era. It’s quaint for a while, but then the banter gets stale and annoying.
And even though Chalamet and co-star Elle Fanning make an attractive couple, the charm wears thin almost immediately. Sure, part of the story has them at odds with one another, but let’s face it, making these two unappealing in a romantic comedy couldn’t have been Allen’s goal.
In “A Rainy Day in New York,” Chalamet plays Gatsby, a rich kid slumming it in an upstate New York liberal arts college. Like many disillusioned youngsters, he’s floating without a major and driven only by immediate concerns. Chief among his interests is his girlfriend Ashleigh (Fanning), an Arizona beauty-queen studying journalism. When Ashleigh gets an assignment to interview a famous film director in New York City, Gatsby seizes the opportunity to show his girl the city.
Gatsby takes his winnings from a card game, his other passion involves gambling, and he gets them a choice room in a classy hotel. He’s planned a night in a piano bar after she returns from her job. But when Ashleigh leaves for her interview and bonds with the director (a droll Liev Schreiber) and his writer (a scruffy Jude Law), Gatsby is left alone.
Strolling about aimlessly, he finds himself on the set of a friend’s student film. Gatsby’s instantly given a role opposite Chan (Selena Gomez), a former flame's little sister. From there, things get romantically complicated. And Ashleigh’s disappearance act extends, as she moves up the ranks from wallowing in self-pity with the director to gallivanting about with a swarthy movie star (played by Diego Luna).
Allen’s script ping-pongs its stars around the occasionally rain-drenched city. Chalamet even gets to sing, as Gatsby’s passion is piano bars. Fanning gets the worst of it, as Allen wrote her character as a clueless debutant, who may be subtly aware that she’s being used, but could care less.
Pop-star and actress Gomez delivers her stogy dialogue in a manner reminiscent of players in a classic 1930’s Hollywood screwball comedy. If she was the only one in the film that spoke this way, it would be a charming character trait, but it comes off as mimicry against the other performances.
As an aside, I remember being enchanted by Patricia Hitchcock’s snazzy delivery in her father’s 1951 classic “Strangers on a Train.” That supporting performance stood out because it was distinct from the other characters in the movie. Here Allen’s artificially witty dialogue spoken by all the young actors swirls together in a cacophony of disagreeable tones—it’s noise, not narrative.
Things do slow down for one good scene in which Gatsby’s mother (the always excellent Cherry Jones) brings her boy down to earth. Jones, immaculately adorned in a lovely yellow cocktail dress, plays the world-weary, New York socialite mother with a kind of no-nonsense plainness that the entire film is sorely missing. This crushing voice of reason is to be an epiphany for the boy. But because Allen built Gatsby up to be almost incapable of letting his guard down, Chalamet isn’t allowed emote or engage on a deep, sincere level. It’s disappointing, despite being the film’s standout highlight.
Had Allen wanted to channel Whit Stillman and his Oscar-nominated 1990 film “Metropolitan,” why not set his rom-com in that time? But, unfortunately, “A Rainy Day in New York” feels hopelessly dated and forced.