“A Rainy Day in New York” – Gravier Productions
As you try to wrap your head around the idea of Timothee Chalamet being cast as a young Willy Wonka in a rumored Wonka origin story film, watch his wistful “A Rainy Day in New York.” This movie will amuse while still leaving plenty of mental space to ponder whether anyone really asked for another Wonka film. Or another Woody Allen film, for that matter, but this is a decent one by the standards of his later films. Chalamet plays a rudderless college student who brings his wide-eyed girlfriend (Elle Fanning) into the city for a weekend that changes both their lives.
Chalamet launches directly into standard Allen narration, but eventually, he sloughs off his more overt Allen cadences and his role develops into his own character. That character bears the preposterous name of Gatsby Welles and is a reluctant student at a liberal arts college in Upstate New York. His campus sweetheart, Ashleigh Enright (Fanning), gets an extraordinary and highly unrealistic opportunity to interview a major film director in New York City, and Gatsby jumps at the chance to squire her around his hometown and impress her with its sophisticated offerings.
Director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) and his screenwriting partner, Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), are comically receptive to the opinions of the innocent, attractive young journalism student, and soon Ashleigh is swept into their world. Roland, on the cusp of making expensive, last-minute changes to his film, is suddenly quite open to her input, especially as it is extremely complimentary. Similarly, Ted soon feels Ashleigh is the best person to accompany him on an intimate adventure through Manhattan in search of his own wandering wife and, ostensibly, the lost film director.
But soon there are even more male egos to be soothed, in the form of a dishy leading man played by Diego Luna. Ashleigh appears to project the perfect blend of intelligence, naiveté, skirt length and alcohol tolerance that makes her into a dream girl for all these accomplished men, all in a rainy 24-hour period. Meanwhile, Gatsby’s opportunities to dazzle her with his New York City itinerary, including Allen’s signature landmarks like Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, vanish as his romantic competitors multiply.
Fanning’s performance as the wined and dined ingénue has an unexpected knowingness that rescues her situation from misogyny and turns it on its head. Her suitors only think they are taking advantage of her. The great male actors portraying them round the film out well, so we have more than just Chalamet to look at. This film was made in 2019 but languished before it got released and in the interim, most actors have denounced Allen, so it’s hard to imagine he will be able to get so many A-listers together again for such an ensemble.
Is Fanning’s character’s unusual degree of agency a statement on Allen’s controversial May-December on-screen relationships? I think Fanning herself just brings a contemporary reading to her role. Her performance is certainly better than Selena Gomez’s, who becomes a second love interest to Gatsby when Ashleigh’s dance card gets too full for him. Gomez is meant to represent a better fit for Gatsby, but she actually represents a well-known, adorable young lady named Selena Gomez reading her lines seemingly for the first time.
But back to Gatsby, who is forced to meet up with his well-to-do parents at their fancy fundraiser despite his resentment of their wealth and connections. His encounter with his mother at the party gives his character and the film an unexpected late dose of depth and interest. I expect we shall be witnessing Chalamet coming of age on-screen for the next few years, and he is a compelling actor. Even when his hair does most of the acting, it does a decent job.
“A Rainy Day in New York” is a witty, star-studded romantic comedy we would think was surprisingly good — if anyone else directed it. But since it’s directed by Woody Allen and it has so many similarities to his other films, the reaction is that it’s just another Woody Allen movie. If you enjoy those signatures and tones, you will enjoy this light but intellectual diversion.
“A Rainy Day in New York” is currently available to rent.
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