A Rainy Day in New York

Movie Information

Edwin Arnaudin and Bruce Steele discuss Woody Allen's latest romantic comedy.
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez
Rated: PG-13

Edwin Arnaudin: Woody Allen has been on a bit of a cold streak lately. Wonder Wheel was a largely irredeemable downer; his Amazon “series” (read: film broken into chapters) Crisis in Six Scenes was fun but forgettable; and Café Society felt like a first draft for a more ambitious film. Does A Rainy Day in New York get him back on track, or is it time for the legend to think about retiring?

Bruce Steele: Well, he’s not quite on track, but I’d never count him out. As soon as 20-something Gatsby (Timothée Chalamet) starts the voice-over, then begins a dialogue with girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) while walking on the autumn campus of Yardley College, you can hear the voice of Woody Allen from so many movies past — and it’s a little disconcerting coming from Chalamet. It’s also rather flat, like a computer imitating Allen’s language tics and cultural allusions but without the spark of inspiration. Rainy Day is Allen’s attempt to recapture a light, breezy comedy of errors and coincidence, and I’m hard-pressed to remember the last time he succeeded in that vein. Does Magic in the Moonlight (2014) count?

EA: Maybe. That was the last time his whimsical style worked well, though that film has also all but vacated my memory beyond a few images. I suspect Rainy Day will linger there longer. Allen feels much more confident here than in the recent efforts I mentioned, utilizing snappy dialogue and putting fresh twists on such familiar tropes as complicated, ultimately childish artists, fraught parent-child relationships and unexpected but seemingly destined romance. The darkly comic An Irrational Man had been my pick for Allen’s best work since Blue Jasmine, but it’s been usurped.

BS: Really? Rainy Day won you over? I’m surprised. It seemed so hollow and mechanical to me. The resolution of the romance is obvious as soon as it’s even vaguely hinted at, and the elaborations of the themes you mentioned struck me as shallow and contrived. Playing Gatsby’s mother, Cherry Jones makes a valiant effort to sell one unlikely revelation, but even her genius seemed like so much mud flung up from spinning wheels. You were impressed with the cast, then?

EA: Glad to see I can still shock you from time to time! It’s Allen’s lively script and direction that are key to this film’s success, but the ensemble is also terrific. Chalamet and Fanning are a joy from their first shared scene, and their individual charisma remains strong once they’re separated in Manhattan, Ashleigh’s school newspaper interview with indie filmmaker Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber, delightfully deadpan) heads in an unexpected direction, and she embarks upon a celebrity-rich adventure.

Along the way, we have the pleasure of encountering Jude Law as Roland’s put-upon screenwriting partner (which gives rise to a fun Rebecca Hall cameo) and Diego Luna as a tabloid-friendly movie star, but I was especially taken with Selena Gomez as Chan, the sexy younger sister of Gatsby’s ex-girlfriend. She and Chalamet have an even more appealing dynamic, to the extent that I wasn’t bothered in the least by their arc’s predictability.

BS: Schreiber was deadpan perfect, and Gomez did mesh well with Chalamet, but almost everyone else seemed to me to be trying too hard. That includes our writer-director. I realize that after more than 50 years and a roughly equal number of films, it may be asking too much for a filmmaker to have something new to say, but everything in this movie — the ribbing of Hollywood and New York society, etc. — Allen has done better elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a lifelong fan. Manhattan changed my life. But a certain innocence has been long lost. Were you not squirming when Allen’s screenplay gets Fanning stripped down to her underwear and separates her from her clothes?

EA: No. Her Ashleigh is so well-written and performed that seeing her wind up in those circumstances feels wholly believable. Allen has admittedly been recycling a handful of themes throughout his illustrious career, but every time he appears to be out of new ways to spin them, he rebounds with a Bullets Over Broadway or Match Point. I don’t place Rainy Day quite on that level, but it proves that Allen is far from out of ideas and that, despite it being “hip” to renounce one’s past collaborations with him, his scripts continue to attract top-notch talent. Did you at least find it slightly funny and well made?

BS: “Well made” is slim consolation when I found almost everything on screen painfully derivative and uninspired. I do always love Allen’s romanticized vision of New York locations, and there were brief moments of sincerity — Chalamet at the piano, his scenes with Gomez. But none of them included Fanning, whom I usually quite enjoy. I do agree that the movie should be judged apart from the controversy that continues to surround Allen, but the director should have the good sense to avoid reminding viewers of his real-life foibles with crass plot twists. Look, I didn’t find Rainy Day painful and awful, just limp. “Slightly funny” is about the best I could say for it. I give it 2 stars.

EA: Apparently, it’s not for everyone. Ashleigh is one of Allen’s classic airheads with a heart of gold, so, again, her character arc makes complete sense, even if it keeps the consistently great Fanning from being part of the scenes you mention. Chalamet has since publicly “regretted” being part of the film, a PR move to improve his chances of winning an Oscar for Call Me by Your Name — not that he stood a chance against Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill — but he should be proud of his work here, which is far superior to that of his breakout role.

Next up for Allen: Rifkin’s Festival, set at Spain’s San Sebastian Festival, starring Wallace Shawn as its organizer and Christoph Waltz as Death! Arriving on the heels of Rainy Day, which gets a strong 4 stars here, I have renewed confidence that the 85-year-old’s return to Europe will prove fruitful. Though when we’ll get to see it remains a mystery.

Available to rent starting Nov. 10 via Amazon Video, iTunes, and other streaming services


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.