Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York

Woody Allen is just as creepy now as he was when he won his fourth Oscar for Midnight in Paris. In recent years, he has been dogged by molestation accusations, but since Allen’s son Moses disputes his sister’s allegations and two investigations either found insufficient evidence for a charge or concluded the events in question did not happen, most sane people would be reluctant to offer an opinion of their own on such a murky, contested issue. However, these are not sane times. The truth is we have no idea whether Allen did what he is accused of and neither do you, (whereas we know with absolute certainty Polanski committed and pled guilty to the crime that made him a fugitive).

So, that’s all very awkward, but if you want to vent moral indignation, the concentration camps in Xinjiang or the abduction of the Hong Kong 12 are clear-cut targets of worthy outrage. Whereas, if you enjoyed Woody Allen films during less over-heated times, his long-delayed
A Rainy Day in New York is pretty much like all the other ones. After his first distributor caved to mob-pressure, Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York finally opens this Friday in the U.S., but not in Allen’s beloved New York, because theaters are closed here, perhaps permanently.

Allen-surrogate Gatsby Welles is a bright young man, but he had to transfer to Yardley, a sheltered liberal arts college, because Ivy League schools were too unstructured for him. (I was going to joke Welles was originally called Orson Hemingway in an earlier draft, but that actually sounds less pretentious.) Welles still isn’t studying much, but he gets by academically and enjoys romancing his naïve girlfriend Asheigh Enright, from the wild backcountry of Tucson, Arizona (believe it or not, they have a symphony and an opera company there, but this film was intended for Manhattan snobs, so it doesn’t matter).

When the campus paper assigns Enright an interview with tormented indie director Roland Pollard, Welles tags along, to show her the City. Inevitably, Welles gets frustrated and jealous when the smitten Pollard stretches out the one-hour interview with a special screening and a supplemental interview with his equally neurotic screenwriter, Ted Davidoff. Instead, Welles spends the day, off-on-on, with Chan Tyrell, the whip-smart younger sister of his old girlfriend. All those romantic cliches he wanted to do with Enright he does with Tyrell—and its not bad.

Timothee Chalamet apologized to everyone in Hollywood for making this film, but he really should have apologized to Allen for being so shticky and affected playing Welles. This character is supposed to be a Ferris Bueller of Park Avenue, but he is never comfortable in Welles’ retro hipster skin—and his crooning voice is pathetic. Likewise, Elle Fanning is downright cringe-inducing as the air-headed Enright. On the other hand, Selena Gomez takes command of every scene she has as Tyrell, through the warmth of her charm and her intelligent good humor.

Liev Schreiber (the scourge of auto-correct features) is drolly amusing portraying Pollard, the anxiety-ridden, self-destructive but prolific filmmaker. You have to wonder who he could have looked to for inspiration while filming his scenes. Jude Law nicely plays against type as the nebbish Davidoff. Yet, it is Cherry Jones who steals the picture with her unforgettable third act scene portraying Welles’ surprisingly cool grand society mother.

Rainy Day is far from Allen’s best or worse film, making its long-awaited, litigated arrival a bit anti-climactic. It is better than at least a dozen of his lesser films (Whatever Works, Melinda and Melinda, Celebrity), but nowhere near the heights of his masterworks (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point). Yet, it is weirdly reassuring to see the familiar white-type-black-background opening credit sequence, accompanied by a traditional jazz band. True to form, Rainy Day has a tasty soundtrack, including vintage Erroll Garner tracks and standards performed by the Conal Fowkes Trio.

Basically, this is another Woody Allen film, but for charitable fans, the work of Gomez and Jones elevates it above the fiftieth percentile of his oeuvre. It really should have been released sooner (and who knows when we will have a chance to see his European-produced
Rifkin’s Festival?). Moderately recommended for what it is and not for what people want it to represent, A Rainy Day in New York releases in open markets (but not New York) this Friday (10/9).