Dir: Woody Allen. Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Liev Schrieber, Jude Law, Rebecca Hall. 12A cert, 89 mins
Woody Allen has always made it impossible to separate the art from the artist. His male protagonists are either played by him or by actors impersonating him, fastidiously directed to adopt his stuttering delivery, his jerky body language, his neuroticism, his obsessive contempt for women. But even divorced from its director and the accusations that have soured its release – hardly an easy uncoupling – A Rainy Day in New York is a sleazy, pretentious failure.
For a while, it seemed as though Allen’s 50th film might never see the light of day. Filmed three years after Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter to The New York Times reiterating the allegations that her adoptive father sexually abused her as a child (allegations he denies and which were not pursued in the Nineties when they first emerged), the film was shelved by Amazon in 2018 at the height of the #MeToo movement.
Allen filed a lawsuit, which was settled out of court. Three of its stars, Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Hall and Griffin Newman, apologised for having anything to do with the film. But having proved a box office smash in South Korea at the tail end of last year, here it is in the UK.
Starring Chalamet as Gatsby Welles, a preppy poker player with rich New York parents, and Elle Fanning as his college girlfriend Ashleigh Enright, an aspiring journalist who hiccups when she’s “sexually conflicted” (which she is constantly), the film takes place over just a handful of hours. It’s set in the present day, but the yellow tinge and whimsical period bent suggests otherwise – so much so that it jars whenever a smartphone rings.
Ashleigh has managed to secure an interview with revered film director Roland Pollard (Liev Schrieber) for the college paper, so she and Gatsby head to Manhattan. “Find out who influenced him more on love: Denis de Rougement or Ortega y Gasset,” advises Gatsby. She doesn’t. She is too busy being charmed by the much older director, who wants to learn from her “unspoilt” (the word’s enough to make you shiver) honesty. Her favourite film of his is Winter Memories. Did she understand it, asks Pollard’s writer Ted (Jude Law)? “No,” she giggles. “I got confused and felt insecure and like I wanted to just be held and kissed.” Later, she is equally enamoured by an older actor (Diego Luna), ending up trapped on his balcony in just her underwear and an overcoat. Despite being ostensibly a lead character, Ashleigh has no discernible personality other than adoring the men around her. Through her, Allen simultaneously extols the virtue and virility of male directors – “He’s so passionate, I can see how all his leading ladies fall in love with him” – and blames women for being shallow enough to be taken in by them. “What the hell is it about old guys that seems so appealing to women?” says Gatsby. “Christ, all they are is decrepit.”
Gatsby wanders around the drizzly city waiting for his girlfriend, bumping into his ex’s sister Chan (Selena Gomez, who here is the most natural performer of the lot) in the meantime. Where directors like Greta Gerwig or Luca Guadagnino wring the charm and goofiness out of Chalamet’s youthful propensity for pretension, here Allen lets it fester.
Meanwhile, Allen’s dialogue, always so singularly arch, has curdled into something unbearable. “I shouldn’t imbibe so copiously,” says Ashleigh. “Alcohol plays havoc with my cerebral neurons.” It is at best a simulacrum of a Woody Allen film, at worst a parody of one. And some of the lines are just plain creepy. “Amy was gorgeous, and so sexually advanced,” says Gatsby of his childhood sweetheart. “Word on Amy was she performed oral sex at a bar mitzvah.” For any 84-year-old man to insert a throwaway line about the sexual aptitude of children would feel in poor taste. Here, it feels almost like goading.
Cloying and soulless, A Rainy Day in New York is a washout.
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