Rita di Santo reviews Woody Allen's new film, A Rainy Day in New York, with a good deal of scepticism
“Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.”
This line from Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) summarising his recurrent self-obsessive topics - of politics, sex and religion - is the reason I am still intrigued by this filmmaker, despite his messy personal life.
With A Rainy Day In New York, the 84-year-old Allen is once again in his beloved hometown. Here we find a handsome young couple, Gatsby and Ashley, played by some of the best actors of their generation, Timothée Chalamet and Elle Fanning, naïve as ever, typical American beauty, round faces and pale white skin.
They are students at a little College not far from New York. Gatsby is a wealthy artist without a clear future, and his girlfriend Ashleigh is an aspiring journalist who has just received an amazing opportunity to interview famed director, Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber).
Galvanised by this chance, Gatsby treats Ashleigh to a weekend in New York City, where he plans visits to his usual lairs, from MoMA to the Met to the coolest hotels and piano bars. But after getting separated, Gatsby and Ashleigh have respective adventures that test the stability of their relationship.
Ashleigh becomes entangled with the filmmaker, then his screenwriter Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), then star actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), leading to a wild trip through the city. While she constantly cancels their plans, Gatsby attempts to avoid his mother (Cherry Jones), ending up cameoing in a friend’s student film, one that puts him in a scene with Chan Tyrell (Selena Gomez), the sister of a former flame.
Iconic cinematographer Vittorio Storaro provides the visuals, making New York a beautiful place, from romantic love to miserable escapade. Allen’s gallery of eccentric characters is full of contradictions, ungainly, insecure and a bit stupid, making the film an enjoyable, funny, carefree romp. But we also can find some of Allen’s typically murky and neurotic keystones.
For example, the name Roland Pollard uncomfortably recalls Roman Polanski, who like Allen has become a Hollywood outcast. Also, Roland represents the way people have judge dAllen, an old popular director in crisis attracted by the younger Ashleigh, who resembles his old girlfriend.
In the Me-Too era, Allen is still quite comfortable with unkind gender inequalities, but Roland’s behaviour is unacceptable. He is not funny, he is nothing but a “dirty old man”, especially given Fanning’s wild vulnerability - it is the usual dull-witted male-oriented fantasy. On the other hand, we have Gatsby, who faces the usual Allen dilemma of choosing between the nice, polite, naïve girlfriend and other women who challenge him or satisfy his infamous carnality.
After 50 years making movies, Allen is still full of ideas, but the social satire has lost its relevance. A movie that will please his fans, which his enemies will hate, and most others will ignore. It is not particularly charming, or funny. Yet it sighs with a romantic, contemporary, artistically vibrant vision New York, while dodging the bitterness of his later work.