A Rainy Day in New York

Review by Matt Thrift @Matt_Cinephile

Directed by

Woody Allen

Starring

Elle Fanning Selena Gomez Timothée Chalamet

Anticipation.

Woody’s recent output has been hit and miss and the dumping of this one hardly bodes well.

Enjoyment.

A funny, amiable riff on ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.

In Retrospect.

The wonderful central trio of performances deserved better distribution than this.

Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning and Selena Gomez sparkle in Woody Allen’s washed-out romantic comedy.

In June of last year, citing the reputational harm it would suffer in the light of renewed allegations against Woody Allen by his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, Amazon proceeded to cancel a four picture deal it had struck with the filmmaker. Allen, in turn, called the studio out for attempting to “excuse its actions by referencing a 25 year old, baseless allegation… already well known to Amazon (and the public),” and is currently in litigation to the tune of $68 million.

The first professional casualty of the termination was A Rainy Day in New York, the only completed picture in the deal, dumped from US and UK release schedules and sold on to various European distributors, quietly premiering in Polish multiplexes this weekend. Its abandonment meant that 2018 was the first year since 1981 not to see a Woody Allen film make it into cinemas.

An ugly situation all round, but what of the film itself? Perhaps predictably, it’s amiable enough, if hardly worthy of the surrounding furore. Seemingly eager to reclaim Blue Jasmine’s success, Allen returns – following Wonder Wheel’s nods to Eugene O’Neill – to the American literary canon, this time colliding ‘The Great Gatsby’ with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ for a contemporary riff on the facades of money and power, elevated by three terrific lead performances.

Timothée Chalamet plays Gatsby Welles, student at upstate Yardley college and scion of “a farrago of WASP plutocrats” whose autumn bash he’s desperate to avoid. His moniker makes for something of a red herring, even if F Scott Fitzgerald’s narrative comes fully to bear on the film’s final act, with Gatsby more readily equatable with the “hostile rebellion” of JD Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.

His girlfriend, Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), is travelling in to New York to interview filmmaker Roland Pollard (“Up there with [Jean] Renoir and [Vittorio] De Sica… Lots of emotional probing, never a decent toilet joke”) for the college paper, and Gatsby, “a wannabe Sky Masterson,” has promised to show her the sights, flush with cash following a poker game.

As Ashleigh arrives at an upmarket hotel to interview Liev Schrieber’s director, the film branches into a pair of narrative threads. Gatsby bumps into Shannon (Selena Gomez), younger sister of an old flame, on a student film shoot, roped in to kiss her on camera just as the heavens open, while despairing and paranoid at Ashleigh’s persistent rain checks as Pollard, his writer (Jude Law) and star (Diego Luna) make passes at the naive 21-year-old journalist.

Fanning’s branch of the film brings most of the funny, almost entirely down to her sensational performance as the film’s Daisy Buchanan proxy. It brings to mind Mira Sorvino’s Oscar-winning turn in Mighty Aphrodite, her “sexually conflicted” hiccups and desperate-to-impress guilelessness stealing a series of comic set-pieces from her older cast members.

Chalamet is equally impressive, effecting a stoop as he bites into the ends of Woody’s prose. Gatsby’s self-indulgent journey appropriates scenes from Salinger wholsesale, but he’s afforded a beautifully tender moment at the piano, gently crooning his way through ‘Everything Happens to Me’ – more Chet Baker than Frank Sinatra.

Gomez’s twist on Phoebe from ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ provides the film’s level-headed emotional centre and its romantic pay-off, while Cherry Jones’ as Chalamet’s mother-with-a-secret brings us squarely into Fitzgerald territory come the final, recriminatory scenes.

There’s no dancing around Woody’s usual ‘what is it about older guys that’s so appealing to women?’ schtick, but there’s little arguing with the melancholy charge of his New York in the rain, especially when shot through car windscreens by Vittorio Storaro, who alternates the honeyed-glow of an embarrassed sun with the reflective silvers of a persistent, lyrical deluge.

A Rainy Day in New York is hardly top-tier Allen, but it’s a shame that such wonderful performances are unlikely to receive the wider attention they deserve.

Published 29 Jul 2019

Tags: Elle Fanning Selena Gomez Timothée Chalamet Woody Allen

Anticipation.

Woody’s recent output has been hit and miss and the dumping of this one hardly bodes well.

Enjoyment.

A funny, amiable riff on ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.

In Retrospect.

The wonderful central trio of performances deserved better distribution than this.

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