Woody Allen’s latest is a great example of how sometimes, it’s really hard to separate the art from the artist. The only one who’s seemingly not aware of this is the film itself; confidently going through the formula that makes all of Allen’s films feel just a bit too similar.
A Rainy Day in New York begins with a young couple from a steady upper-middle class life and going to expensive school. They are very much in love and when Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) gets an opportunity to go to New York and interview a director who’s she’s a huge fan of, they immediately plan an entire romantic weekend in the city that never sleeps. (Un)fortunately for them, New York has plans of its own and they quickly get separated, each living through a series of adventures.
Ashleigh loves film and her boyfriend, both with all of her heart in a slightly naive, innocent, almost child-like behaviour. As a contributor to the school’s paper, she’s called to interview Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) a great director currently going to a depressive episode and an artistic crisis. Through him she later meets the writer of Pollard’s latest film, Ted Davidoff (Jude Law), for whom she expresses the same level of admiration as for the director. Not only does she love films, she also loves the people making them. Walking through a studio, she runs into Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), an actor who she’s, yet again, a huge fan of. All of these three men try to establish a relationship, whether on the emotional or physical level.
Chalamet plays a young rich student, who despises his background as well as his college, all while using the family’s wealth on his exploits. His love for literature, combined with his personality is quite literally depicted in his name and the film proudly wears this influence on its sleeve. Gatsby Welles (I wish I was kidding) guides us through the city with a Caulfield-like narration of what he thinks about all aspects of life, be it love, school or New York. You wouldn’t find a more relatable movie teen for an actual teen, if we were living in the 70s Manhattan.
This lack of focus and unwillingness to fully emerge in present day is what hurts the film most. The world has cars from the 21st century and a few very rare up-to-date references, but there is little to no other evidence suggesting that A Rainy Day in New York actually takes place in the modern times. Characters wear tweed jackets and wooly suits, all dressed formally in a way that combines the entire 20th century of American fashion into a confusing, yet varied wardrobe that refuses to accept any trends of the past nineteen years.
The flat characters occupy a world that should have been marvelous to look at. After all, New York is one of the most cinematic cities. The great Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) makes each of the nice, but old-fashioned sets look like a painting that should have been hanging at The Met, rather than an actual space that our characters can live in and interact with.
No matter how one-dimensional Gatsby, Ashleigh and others are, most of the actors do their best delivering dialogues about love and art (movies, preferably), that Woody Allen films are famous for. Timothée in the role of a lifeless, uninterested narrator nearly kills the movie and his performance in this film is the weakest we’ve seen from him in the past two years. Elle Fanning does a fine job as Ashleigh, conveying every quirky emotion and making nearly all of her jokes land. Surprisingly, Selena Gomez delivers the standout performance, as Gatsby’s ex’s sister Chan. She’s smart and funny, has her own agenda and never conforms with other people. Gomez brings a needed breath of fresh air with her character and I loved every moment with her.
A Rainy Day in New York is a confused, out-of-time movie refusing to try anything new or original, sprinkled with a few good performances. At its best, it’s a heartfelt comedy about love in New York. At its worst, it’s still a Woody Allen movie, made by the same predictable formula.