“We are two different creatures, right? You like the sound of crickets and I like the rattle of the taxis. You blossom in the sun and me, I come into my own under grey skies.”
It’s no longer a secret that Woody Allen owns New York, is it? With a passion that fuels his creativity, Allen has turned the city into a canvas that transcends time and space, any attempt to imagine a time before or after, or a place beyond the city’s familiar haunts, quickly vexed.
And when he examines the lives of New Yorkers and their neuroses, that’s always something special, too.
The characters in almost all his films feel the same way. These are people that breathe in the aura of New York City and vibrate to its pulse. In Allen’s best films (and even in his lesser ones) the filmmaker explores the quirks and idiosyncrasies of New Yorkers, both young and old.
The director’s latest, “A Rainy Day in New York,” does not rank amongst the director’s best work but it is far from his worst and sticks to what he knows, New Yorkers, working out their existential angst from contending with relationships.
Timothée Chalamet is Gatsby Welles (I love that name!), rather an anachronistic fellow. Gatsby is a twentysomething upstate New York college student with a mild gambling addiction. Luckily, he is a true card sharp and makes a good living from it.
His college girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning, right at home in a classically-designed Woody Allen role) is an aspiring journalist and scores an interview with a reputable director (Liev Schreiber, doing a tortured soul better than most).
The two must go to the city for the scheduled interview and Gatsby has a whole day of sightseeing planned. He speaks highly of expensive restaurants and piano bars and the weekend he has planned for the two of them sounds like something out of a Cole Porter tune.
The catch of being in NYC this weekend? Gatsby’s mother is throwing a party for his brother and his fiancé. The semi-reclusive intellectual wants no part of it or his mother’s rich society world, so he plans on snaking through the city unnoticed, save for going to see his brother Hunter (Will Rogers), who is thinking of calling off the wedding due to his wife’s awfully annoying laugh.
In a comedy of errors, Ashleigh becomes entangled with three older men throughout a whirlwind of an afternoon.
After leaving Gatsby to wander the city, she meets with Schreiber’s filmmaker for a strangely personal interview, gets across the city with Jude Law’s screenwriter (leading to one of the film’s funniest moments when they run into his wife) and falls for Diego Luna’s smoldering actor who is all about seduction.
Serendipity always plays a big role in the films of Woody Allen and the center of this film involves Gatsby running into the sister of one of his ex-girlfriends, played ever so charmingly by Selena Gomez. You know the score. They dislike one another, each one finding the other pretentious. Once they realize their shared romanticism of the city, it draws them together.
Been there done that? You betcha! Many times, but, as Carly Simon sang, nobody does it better.
Allen has crafted a contemporary film with older sensibilities. This works here, as Gatsby is an old soul and would fit perfectly into one of Woody’s “Manhattan”-era films or perhaps in a film by the director’s idol, Ingmar Bergman.
Timothée Chalamet’s role is what Allen used to play himself but is now too old to do, let alone “The Woodman” is decades past playing a college student.
Chalamet doesn’t make the mistake of trying to mimic Allen’s mannerisms (a fatal mistake Kenneth Branagh made in 1998’s “Celebrity”) and creates a moving and funny character.
Selena Gomez is the true find of the film. As an actress she has impressed me even less than her music does. To be fair, Gomez has not had enough chances to explore her acting but Woody rights this wrong and allows the actress to shine. Her character is smart and charming and completely intoxicating.
Fanning is the required “flighty” for her comedic role and the supporting cast does great work.
Cherry Jones has only about ten minutes of screen time as Gatsby’s mother and shares a dialogue with Chalamet that is shocking, humorous, and takes the wind out of Gatsby’s moral sails. Jones all but steals the film in one of the best moments Allen has written in years.
As he did in Woody’s undervalued “Wonder Wheel,” cinematography legend Vittorio Storaro shoots New York City as a colorful, rain soaked, painting that gives the film a dreamy appearance.
As a filmmaker, Woody Allen doesn’t get enough credit for the visuals he and his cinematographers create. Woody and Storaro have crafted a visual love sonnet to Allen’s beloved city.
“A Rainy Day in New York” is a safe space film for Woody Allen. It feels as if the filmmaker is spinning his wheels a bit but that doesn’t make this a bad film.
When Woody examines the lives of New Yorkers and their neuroses it is always something special.
While the shine may not be as bright with this latest film, the Woody Allen we know is in there, and there are enough moments to remind us of his supreme talent.