The only surprise of A Rainy Day in New York is Woody Allen’s apparent lack of interest in young people. The avowed Luddite, obsessive neurotic, and (let’s get this out of the way) alleged pedophile has finally aged himself out. Allen’s latest romp through Manhattan stars his youngest cast yet, but the kids aren’t all right. A Rainy Day in New York plays like a film written by an 85-year-old man with no understanding of today’s youths. The film plays in a vacuum that idealises books, plays, and movies from decades past.
What makes A Rainy Day in New York heartbreaking, especially for an Allen fan, is that Woody knows the perils of living in the past. He literally wrote a movie about it. Midnight in Paris, arguably one of his best films, advises one to look to the past for inspiration. It tells audiences to savour the present because we only get to live it once. His films frequently draw inspiration from classic literature and pepper their soundtracks with old jazz, but they’re rarely anachronistic. That’s why they age so well and endure despite Allen’s personal troubles.
Old Dog, Old Tricks
A Rainy Day in New York, however, doesn’t use the past to engage with the present. All the references to art and culture are the classics that Allen gabbed about in the ’70s. Nobody in the film talks like a Millennial. Nobody acts like one. Any good film should try to understand the lives it portrays, yet Allen doesn’t seem to care anymore. This film reflects his idea of what it’s like to be young. Moreover, while his notion of youth was amusing in Bananas and Sleeper, those films are nearly fifty years old. The film is simply inauthentic and detached from the world it portrays. A filmmaker needs to do some basic research of a culture he attempts to represent.
Even the film’s Woody Allen stand-in, Timothée Chalamet, is about 100 years too late. Named Gatsby Welles—perhaps the Woody Allen-est name yet for a character—Chalamet plays an affected poser. Gatsby is a trust fund brat who only knows the world via old books and movies. He uses a cigarette holder—kids vape these days, Woody!—and gesticulates grandly with it whilst citing high-culture references. Most of his cultural name-dropping is for the benefit of his girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), a philistine from Arizona. She’s on a school assignment to interview film director Roman Pollard (Liev Schreiber), which prompts the trip to New York. While Gatsby’s in his element back home in Manhattan, Ashleigh’s ludicrously out of her depth.
Woody and the Women
The real problem with A Rainy Day in New York is Ashleigh. Allen usually writes terrific characters, especially women, but she’s one of his worst creations. Men talk down to her and simply see her as an opportunity to validate their intellectual superiority. However, Allen remains uncritical of his pedantic cultural impresarios. The film judges the character harshly for hailing from the unsophisticated southwest. Rainy Day isn’t Annie Hall, though, and Allen is now the guy who lost his mantra. (Or, more aptly, his mojo.) Allen just sees Ashleigh as a nubile co-ed and a chance to drag the media. (Two birds, one stone.) The director’s portrait of journalism is offensive to anyone who practices the profession.
Ashleigh is a ludicrously bubbly, dim-witted firecracker packed with raging hormones and wild inhibitions. The 21-year-old co-ed inevitably finds herself smitten with Pollard. And then his screenwriter (Jude Law) and, soon after that, a hot Latin actor (Diego Luna). Allen at least has the sense to make Ashleigh above the age of consent, but he doesn’t give her any credit. There’s little that Fanning can do whilst nattering like a boob, hiccupping as a side effect of Ashleigh’s wayward sex drive, or scurrying about in her panties in the rain.
Gomez and Jones Are Rays of Sunshine in Rainy Day
A Rainy Day in New York, however, gifts audiences a wonderful performance from Cherry Jones. Playing Gatsby’s well-to-do mother in a briefly memorable cameo, Jones enjoys a plum monologue that ties together the film’s themes of class, privilege, and social mobility. However, she also illustrates the film’s inability to envision a woman as anything other than a whore. Jones’s effective interpretation of the material conjures the contradictions of Allen the genius and Allen the knob.
There are hints of classic Allen, however, in Chan (Selena Gomez), a face from Gatsby’s past whom he encounters while strolling the sidewalks of New York. Gomez and Chalamet have great chemistry, and their scenes of bickering and barbs are among the film’s highlights. Chan has the agency that Ashleigh lacks and isn’t afraid to call out Gatsby’s high-falutin’ façade. Gomez also taps into the brainwave of Allen’s comedy and operates on just the right wavelength to make her character a worthy alternative to Fanning’s grating simpleton.
Similarly, no director matches Allen when it comes to filing New York. Rainy Day looks gorgeous, especially thanks to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s amber-hued cinematography. The striking hues evoke the romanticism of Gatsby’s musings, especially as gilded light hits Chalamet’s jawline so strikingly, making the lead resemble one of the classic artworks he favours. Despite with these ingredients, though, Allen regurgitates material he’s used before. Even the golden-hued Midnight in Paris relished a walk in the rain.
A Rainy Day in New York is, unfortunately, more MacArthur Park than Central Park. The cake has been left out in the rain and it is soggy. Woody had the magic once, but it seems he’ll never have that recipe again.
A Rainy Day in New York is now on home video.