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Sunday, November 3, 2019

'A Rainy Day in New York', Woody in (his) Wonderland

A Rainy Day in New York

I skipped the last two movies by Woody Allen, ‘Wonder Wheel’ and ‘Cafe Society’, just because one couldn’t help having that very sad feeling the maestro is dealing with a serious case of creative exhaustion. For the same reason, I was also considering passing on ‘A Rainy Day in New York’, but some amiable reviews commenting the veteran director was revisiting 'The Great Gatsby' and 'The Catcher in the Rye' in a romantic comedy settled in his beloved Manhattan made me think it was worth trying. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

There’s a powerful sense of Allen rehashing himself from almost the very first frame of the film, with a plot, a very young couple spending the weekend in Manhattan where, under bad weather, they will live a series of adventures and (romantic, familiar) revelations, being a mere excuse for the New yorker to indulge himself into his most well-known territory, his comforting Wonderland. Because ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ is so woodyallenesque that at some point I thought the movie was done just for his own pleasure. Even more so considering what has been going around his persona and career lately.

With that idea in mind, the movie could be seen as the work of a nostalgic director surrendering to a serene, anachronic yet friendly contemplation of the things he loves. That personal, trademark look to art, cinema, and more importantly, life, runs through Gatsby Wells (Timothée Chamalet), an alter ego with the most presumptuous name ever, who considers himself somewhat of an illustrated beatnik, the last romantic hero, an unbeatable gambler forced to study at Yardley (elite university, of course), and who is rebelling (at least he thinks so) against his extremely wealthy family… while the pay the bills of his dreamlike life. Gatsby’s romantic partner, yet at the same time opposing force in the movie is Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning), an optimistic, innocent girl from Kansas (the "other America"), also a young millionaire, whose journalist duties at Yardley allows her to interview a cult-movie director in the 'Big Apple'.

So, we have two very different leading characters involved in a crazy, romantic adventure that splits into two stories, one of them including an inside portrait of the world of cinema (by far the most entertaining side of the movie, with enjoyable supporting roles played by Jude Law, Liv Schreiber or Diego Luna), a lot of jazz everywhere, dozens of literary references, conversations about love and philosophy taking place within stunning apartments, museums and the coolest bars of 'the city that never sleeps'. It’s the kind of stuff that should work smoothly in the hands of Woody Allen… But it doesn’t.

To begin with, because ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ sounds completely unbelievable, Allen’s young people talk as if they were playing a period piece, being posh and annoying as anything he has ever portrayed. One thing is to fall into nostalgia, but being that rigid and from another era (not even a Whatsapp message?) kills the possibility to relate with the main characters. But there’s worse. The film is not funny at all, jokes seems outdated and the situations the two confront (particularly Gatsby) are missing the comical element. Appalling considering who wrote the script, the satire about the upper classes and intellectual elites is pretty shallow in my opinion… And that’s not all folks. Because when Allen tries to shift from a comedy to a serious tale about Gatsby’s finding his true identity… all the lightweight “watchability” of the script and tone of the movie falls apart.

To my eyes, there’s only one aspect of ‘A Rainy Day in New York’, aside from Vittorio Storaro’s photography, that deserves to be highlighted. That’s Elle Fanning performance, graceful, bright and loose enough to make her side of the story engaging (wish the movie would have been about her movie quest instead, so much potential), the lonely anchor of otherwise a pretty lifeless film. Guess I know this might sound pretty harsh. The movie could have a pass as a failed yet well-intentioned comedy. But again, this is Woody Allen who are talking about. He has done this film a hundred times before, and way way better.

SCORE: 4,75/10

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