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Review: A Rainy Day In New York – “Funny when it needs to be and is very charming”

Woody Allen may be persona non grata in the faux-woke Hollywood of 2020—so much so that his latest film, A Rainy Day in New York, hasn’t even got a US distributor. Initially, the “evil” Amazon had signed Allen to a four-picture deal. Amazon had partially funded and planned to release the film but dropped it after renewed interest in a post-#MeToo climate that rekindled controversy over the 1992 sexual abuse allegation against Allen by his daughter Dylan Farrow, whom he had adopted with Mia Farrow. Allen actually had to file a lawsuit to force Amazon to release the film back to him, allowing Allen to seek other distributors.

To recap, the alleged molestation is said by Dylan to have happened eight months after Allen’s sexual relationship with Mia’s adopted adult daughter (NOT Woody’s, as is often misreported) Soon-Yi Previn became known to Mia, an incredibly nasty custody battle would start immediately after the allegation for Moses, Satchel (Rowan) and Dylan. Moses would go on to write a damning op-ed about Mia’s own abusive nature towards her children, who were mostly adopted. Allan and Farrow’s only “biological” child together is Rowan Farrow, who has been one of the key journalists who exposed Harvey Weinstein’s monstrosity—although, given his resemblance to Mia’s ex-husband Frank Sinatra, rumours have swirled for years over the true identity of his father. This is only stated to give a little bit of background to the troubled release of A Rainy Day in New York—it’s not here to tell you what to think. Read both sides and make up your own mind.

Despite all the behind-the-scenes chaos over distribution, A Rainy Day in New York turns out to be a partial return to form for Allen after the beautifully photographed but deeply disappointing Wonder Wheel, his first film set in his beloved New York in over a decade. Here Timothée Chalamet is the second millennial to adopt the Woody Allen persona after Jesse Eisenberg did it with varying results in a duo of films. Chalamet is the frankly embarrassingly named Gatsby Welles, a college student who is the son of wealthy New York parents. His girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) is going to NYC to interview film director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), and Gatsby decides to tag along.

Allen plays to all his usual strengths as a writer/director, and returns one of his more enjoyable films since the ’90s, with Midnight in Paris and the underrated Cafe Society were the two biggies in recent years. It’s funny when it needs to be and is very charming—especially Fanning’s adorable turn, which recalls the best of the screwball-comedy scarlets of the ’30s, such as Jean Arthur and Rosalind Russell, and even reminds viewers a bit of a young Diane Keaton. Many actors have come through the Woody Allen school, and more often than not they aren’t always the best fit for his distinctive dialogue. Fanning is perfect, and since she is one of the few actors involved with the film to not publicly denounce working with Allen, we can hope they might collaborate again. Parker Posey was another in recent years who was such a perfect fit—it’s a criminal that Allen didn’t cast her for something in the ’90s.

Chalamet starts off incredibly ropey as the star of the film, doing a bad impression of Allen’s mannerisms. This is a trap almost every male surrogate for Allen falls into. Owen Wilson was one of the few to pull it off successfully in Midnight in Paris. Gradually, he drops the neurotic Woody schtick, and by the end, he is perfectly fine. But it’s Fanning’s film completely, and every moment she is off the screen the film suffers. The rest of the cast is solid, including Selena Gomez as Chan, Gatsby’s other love interest, and a former ex’s younger sister. Jude Law has a bit part as a screenwriter, and Diego Luna plays a famous actor and later love interest for Ashleigh.

It may not be the greatest Woody Allen film by any stretch, he hits all his usual themes, including the usual older man/younger woman creepiness with Elle Fanning and Liev Schreiber, who becomes incredibly infatuated with her and wants her to be his muse… of course. Allen’s films have always seemed deeply personal, although it’s something he always downplays. The abuse allegation and the fact that he married his girlfriend’s adopted daughter mean that people will read whatever they want into it. It’s one of Allen’s better-looking films, with Vittorio Storaro handling the cinematography. Storaro shot many of Bernardo Bertolucci’s films, including The Conformist and The Last Emperor, but also Reds and Apocalypse Now. It’s easily Allen’s best partnership with a cinematographer since the glory years of Gordon Willis.

If you can stomach a new Woody Allen film in 2020, you could do a lot worse than A Rainy Day in New York. As usual with an Allen film, it has an incredibly breezy runtime, coming in around the 90-minute mark. The film was probably never going to have a big theatrical release in the UK after coming out in much of Europe last year, but it was recently the highest-grossing film in the world during the Coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully, at some point a US distributor will come to its senses and gives it a VOD release, it could be a sizeable lockdown hit there as well. Signature Entertainment is releasing the film on various VOD platforms on the 5th of June, with a DVD release on the 27th of July.

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  1. Diego Luna plays a famous actor, NOT Gatsby’s filmmaker friend.

    • Thank you for the correction, it’s been like 6 months since I’ve seen it so my memory was a little hazy.

  2. And why is an older man/younger woman dynamic inherently creepy? Creepy is a deeply overused word. It implies malicious intent, and it impugns motive. Even if the motive is physical attraction, that’s not creepy, that’s biology. Stop contributing to the narrative that’s taken hold in society about May December relationships being exploitative. Every experience is different. And obviously, Woody’s relationship is a very successful one.

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