2020 is really going out of its way to be one of the craziest years in history. Seismic changes are happening in various corners of the globe, many for the better, all whilst we battle a life changing viral pandemic. Shit’s wild, right? I thought why not add more mayhem to the mix by, perhaps against my better moral judgement, reviewing arguably the highest profile VOD release of the week. Some of the favourite actors continue to work with Woody Allen, and it always tempts me back. Damnit.
In his first return to the big screen since 2017’s pretty dreadful Wonder Wheel, Allen presents A Rainy Day In New York. The film tells an incredibly familiar Woody-esque story of Gatsby (Timothée Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), a wealthy college couple who venture into Manhattan on a, well, rainy day. The narrative forces them apart to go on their own separate adventures, and we follow them both across a quaint and whimsical day filled with strange encounters and self discoveries.
The first thing I will say about A Rainy Day In New York is that I liked it a lot more than I expected to. That doesn’t however, make it is a great movie. When it comes down to it, you are either someone who enjoys quintessential Woody Allen or doesn’t, and it just so happens that I do (the best example, anyway). There are moments of dialogue in this movie that put me in the mind of some his greatest works like Manhattan and Annie Hall, but the core difference here is that times have changed, but Allen’s sensibilities haven’t.
A true love letter to the city, A Rainy Day In New York is smothered in what some might regard as nostalgia, but the longer you watch, the more it starts to feel simply like the writer is more out of touch than anything else. I’m not going to sit here and say that I didn’t have a good time in parts, because I laughed out loud way more than I thought I would. The version of New York, and indeed the version of the young people who inhabit it, is a version that I am not familiar with. Money drips everywhere from the choice of hotels to the general privilege of every single character. Allen tries to subvert this with a ‘shocking reveal’ about one particular character late in the game, but by that point, it feels like too little too late, not to mention misogynistic.
At this point in world culture, I’m just not sure how many people are going to want to spend their time watching yet another film with a pretty much all white cast, focusing very much on ‘rich white people problems’. A Rainy Day In New York is definitely more enjoyable than Wonder Wheel, but at the end of the day it’s still just Woody Allen doing usual Woody Allen things. Kind of out touch at this stage in the game.
As narrator Gatsby, Timothée Chalamet is doing a full ‘Woody Allen in his quirky prime’ impression here, to the extent that is actually distracts from the universe of the film at times. It’s not an unenjoyable thing to watch thanks to Chalamet’s charisma, but it is rather odd to experience. From the brown jacket to the fast paced neurotic monologues, the character is unmistakebly an Allen creation. I’ll watch Chalamet in anything, but it’s not an affront to say that he has done much better and more defining work in other projects.
As girlfriend Ashleigh, Elle Fanning is the sneaky MVP of the entire picture in my opinion. Her lines evoked some of my heartiest giggles, but it can’t be overlooked that her character isn’t treated particularly well throughout. Ashleigh is used as a kind of ditsy ‘West Coast’ foil to highlight Gatsby’s ‘New York’ intellectualism, and the character is worst treated in the scenes that they share together. But Fanning is great, as she generally tends to be.
Prominent supporting roles are played by high profile stars like Jude Law, Diego Luna and Liev Schrieber, all to fine but fleeting effect. Selena Gomez feels slightly out of place as Chan, an old childhood friend who recapture’s Gatsby’s eye during the day, but not to a distractingly bad degree. One of the better supporting players is definitely Cherry Jones as Gatsby’s imposing mother Mrs. Welles. Jones doesn’t come immediately to mind for this kind of role, but she’s perfect for it and a personal highlight of the film for me.
Overall, A Rainy Day In New York is very much a Woody Allen movie. His film DNA is unmistakable, and I sense that the level of enjoyment one finds in this picture is going to be based on how much of a fan you already are. It doesn’t have the timeliness of something like Annie Hall, instead feeling a little bit like it’s trying to go back to those days without taking in anything that has happened in the following 40 years. A pleasant enough 90 minutes, but I know I’m going to have forgotten most of it by next month.