A Rainy Day in New York: Written and directed by Woody Allen, and starring: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna, Liev Schreiber, Rebecca Hall. Cert 12, 89 mins. (JPr)
Woody Allen’s latest film is A Rainy Day in New York (trailer click here) and it has been mired in controversy and had its release delayed since it was filmed in late 2017. It has had no theatrical release in the US but becomes available on various streaming platforms in the UK from 5 June. Led by the #MeToo movement Allen’s career has suffered revisionism and trial by social media which he seems to have survived for a recent interview (The Guardian) and profile (Daily Mail) to suggest the tide might be turning.
Those who read my reviews will appreciate how often Allen might be referenced: from reminding readers of the quote ‘I can’t listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland’ to an anecdote very recently about watching his po-faced 1978 Interiors and finding unintentional laughs in that rare misstep for the legendary comedian and auteur. I don’t intend to ‘forensically examine’ all the issues surrounding his relationship with Soon-Yi, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow who was Allen’s long-term partner at the time. (Allen was 57 and Soon-Yi was 21.) This began in 1992 with the furore over some ill-advised polaroids which led to Farrow accusing Allen of sexually assaulting Dylan, their seven-year-old adopted daughter.
To cut a long story short nothing was ever found to substantiate these allegations and you can read about this in detail in these latest articles, as well as, Allen’s recent entertaining – and self-deprecating – autobiography Apropos of Nothing. Farrow and Allen had a biological son, Satchel, who was only 4 in 1992, and is now known as Ronan and is an otherwise fairly well-respected journalist; yet, it seems, due to his mother’s inordinate influence, he also lives to denounce Allen, who may or may not actually be Ronan’s father (but that is another story). Hachette were to be the original publisher for Apropos of Nothing last March, but when Ronan objected – because they also published his book, Catch and Kill – they meekly surrendered but this only gave the book more publicity. It was eventually released by Arcade Publishing whose founder Jeannette Seaver described the book as ‘wonderful, very well-written, extremely entertaining and so honest’. I would suggest those with a perceived axe to grind against Allen should read Apropos of Nothing, as well as, everything else surrounding the controversy from open-minded commentators. Surely if what Allen has written is not the truth then it is open for the Farrows (Mia and Ronan) to take legal action but there has been none as far as I am aware.
Many actors were happy to work uncomplainingly with Allen until he was proven guilty in the court of public opinion. There has never been any suggestion he ever acted inappropriately to anyone involved on his films in any capacity. Yet many now have expressed regret about working for Allen and, whilst there has been support from others, casting his films has been problematic recently. Timothée Chalamet stars in A Rainy Day in New York and Allen recounts how ‘Timothée afterward publicly stated he regretted working with me and was giving the money to charity. But he swore to my sister he needed to do that as he was up for an Oscar for Call Me By Your Name, and he and his agent felt he had a better chance of winning if he denounced me, so he did.’ Chalamet has not refuted this as far as I am aware.
For Allen there has been (at least) two positive outcomes: he has been married to Soon-Yi since 1997 and they have raised two adopted daughters, Bechet and Manzie, both now in their twenties. Would authorities allow the couple to adopt if they had any concerns that Allen was the ‘child molester’ Mia Farrow claimed he was? (For an engaging insight into the early days of Soon-Yi and Woody’s relationship seek out Barbara Kopple’s 1997 documentary Wild Man Blues.) More recently, despite being shunned by members of its cast – as well as Chalamet, Selena Gomez and Rebecca Hall also donated large sums to charity – and with its US release cancelled by its original backer, Amazon Studios, A Rainy Day in New York recently topped the global box office. Of course, most of the world’s cinemas are shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, but ‘a win’s a win’, nevertheless!
So, what about Allen’s latest? Firstly, it will not be his last film as a next one (his 49th) – Rifkin’s Festival starring Elena Anaya, Louis Garrel, Gina Gershon, Sergi López, Wallace Shawn and Christoph Waltz – is ready for release later this year.
You know you’re getting old when a new Woody Allen film’s cast looks so young! Actually, this must be one of his youngest – if not the youngest – ensembles and they bring an engaging naiveté and energy to A Rainy Day in New York which also benefits from having a beginning, middle and an end, not always a given with Allen’s later films. The emotional complexities of Allen’s well-trodden plot – such as it is – are neatly resolved; though admirers of the writer and director’s remarkable oeuvre will have spotted how it will end from about the halfway point. Those familiar with my eclectic reviews will know I admit an ignorance of great literature so the supposed homage A Rainy Day in New York pays to The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye – because of its focus on money and power – passes me by, but may mean more to you.
The Allen doppelgänger in A Rainy Day in New York is Timothée Chalamet as Gatsby(!) Welles, a student at the fictional upstate Yardley College. He is estranged from his Park Avenue parents and their circle who he considers ‘a farrago of WASP plutocrats’ but is happy to benefit from their wealth. His ditzy girlfriend Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning) gets the opportunity to interview a famous film director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) back in New York for the college’s Yardley Argus. Gatsby maps out a whole day for them sightseeing in the city whilst strenuously attempting to avoid his parents’ autumn gala later the same day. This is a Woody Allen film so you can expect things not to go to plan and they do not. As Gatsby says near the end, we see how Ashleigh is ‘loved spiritually, emotionally, and physically’ – by the famed, yet tormented, filmmaker, his insecure screenwriter Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), and finally a vain actor, Francisco Vega (Diego Luna) – during some madcap adventures throughout the city. Ashleigh is constantly cancelling the plans Gatsby has for them (asking for a rain check?) whilst he is attempting to avoid any contact with his mother (Cherry Jones).
Over the opening credits we have heard Bing Crosby sing ‘I Got Lucky in the Rain’ and rain becomes a pivotal further ‘character’ in what unfolds. None more so than when Gatsby ends up helping with a student friend’s film and he gets reacquainted with Chan Tyrell (Selena Gomez), his former girlfriend’s sister, when they must kiss. Cue, Allen’s familiar relationship flipflopping before a more-than-satisfactory resolution.
Of course, Allen has mined the ‘what is it about older guys that’s so appealing to women?’ set-up innumerable times before (art imitating life?) and his films continue to be peppered with cultural references that would never past the lips of ‘real’ millennials. I believe Allen knows exactly what he is doing, such that, A Rainy Day in New York’s blatant anachronism is part of its charm in the end.
He is aided and abetted by three fine central performances, though not every minor role is cast from strength. Chalamet is a suitably needy, nerdy, workshy, accomplished poker player, in his tweed jacket(!) who at one point says of his upbringing ‘I didn’t hang out with the kids, I just liked to watch old movies and play my vinyl’ (remind you of anyone?). Elle Fanning as Ashleigh does well with the schtick she is given (when she is ‘sexually conflicted’ she hiccups!) and gets some good lines such as ‘You’re Francisco Vega, my roommate would haemorrhage, she thinks you are the greatest thing to come along since the morning after pill, me too!’. (Her character flits between Schreiber, Law, and Luna who do their best with the little Allen gives them.) Best of all is Selena Gomez’s Chan who totally seem to ‘get’ Allen’s patois and is the most rounded and interesting character. You should find yourself rooting for Chan and Gatsby as they meet by the Delacorte Clock at the Central Park Zoo for the optimistic end to (their) A Rainy Day in New York.
Cherry Jones as Gatsby’s mother excels in their rapprochement scene near the end of the film and – when referring to the statuesque ‘escort’ (Suki Waterhouse) her son has brought to the family gathering as a fake Ashleigh (don’t ask!) – she gets the wonderful one-liner ‘Do you think a girl like that wants to live hand to mouth?’.
One last ‘character’ that must not be overlooked is Allen’s beloved New York. The pre-Covid-19 city and its landmarks can rarely have been filmed – rain or shine – to better effect, thanks to the legendary Vittorio Storaro. We all share in the sadness of what has happened to ‘The Big Apple’ recently and wish all there a speedy return to happier times soon.
So, A Rainy Day in New York is no Annie Hall, but it is no Interiors either, and is definitely a strong late-career effort from Woody Allen and I, for one, eagerly look forward to Rifkin’s Festival.