A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK

Producers: Erika Aronson and Letty Aronson   Director: Woody Allen   Screenplay: Woody Allen   Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Liev Schreiber, Jude Law, Rebecca Hall, Diego Luna, Cherry Jones, Kelly Rohrbach, Will Rogers, Annaleigh Ashford, Ben Warheit and Suki Waterhouse   Distributor: MPI Media Group and Signature Entertainment

Grade: C

Woody Allen’s newest film—not all that new, really, having been filmed in 2017—was effectively disowned by its original distributor because of the scandals that have recently swirled around the writer-director once again:  Amazon Studios dropped it from its release schedule; and Allen sued; as a result gained the rights to the movie himself.  Some of the cast, meanwhile, expressed regret about appearing in it, while others defended Allen, and star Timothée Chalamet pointedly donated his salary to various charities.  The film was subsequently released in various foreign locales beginning in mid-2019, and it now is becoming available in a few U.S. theatres through MPI Media.

In many respects the saga of the movie’s post-production history is more interesting than the final product.  Whatever your opinions about Allen, it’s not terrible, but neither is it particularly good.  “A Rainy Day in New York” is basically a rehash of Woody’s older, better films, boasting a few good lines but largely squandering the talents of a strong cast in a nostalgia-drenched and often positively flat-footed throwback.

Chalamet plays the improbably named Gatsby Welles, a name rife with allusion for a character that’s actually a simulacrum of  Holden Caulfield.  He’s a gangly student at the fictitious Yardley College in upstate New York who’s not terribly interested in his classes but enjoys gambling, at which he’s inordinately successful.  He has a girlfriend, journalist major Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning) from Tucson, who may be giggly and a trifle naïve, but is a pretty blonde and very enthusiastic, especially in supporting Gatsby. 

She gets an assignment from the campus paper to interview famous movie director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) in Manhattan, which suits Gatsby enormously.  He’ll use the cash he’s just won to treat her to a great time in his hometown, which he loves passionately—especially the fine old hotels, the museums, the classic restaurants, and especially the revered bars where pianists still regale customers with tunes by the likes of Noel Coward.  Gatsby might be living in the twenty-first century, but in his herringbone jacket he exhibits tastes of the 1950s. He’s also quick with witheringly piquant ripostes and often manic gesticulations.   Remind you of anyone?

His plans go awry when Ashleigh’s interview turns into an all-day affair , with a succession of guys, beginning with Pollard, showing an unhealthy interest in her, to which she responds with somewhat vacant acquiescence.  (At one point Gatsby wonders why young women are so attracted to older men—which, given his circumstances, might strike you as a line Allen might have thought better about including.)   The director confesses that he thinks his latest film, a seventy-million dollar piece (which seems unlikely for a fellow whose inscrutable stuff Ashleigh vacantly adores), is pretentious existential crap, and invites her to a screening in the editing room—where, in a bout of depression, he leaves her with his screenwriter Ted Davidoff (Jude Law).  She then drives off with Ted to track Pollard down, only to have Davidoff see his wife Claire (Rebecca Hall), supposed to be in Connecticut, going  into his best friend’s apartment.  That leads to a scene in which the two argue in the street about her infidelity (by this time the rain has started), and Ted sends Ashleigh on alone to the studio where Roland probably has gone.

By the time she arrives, Pollard’s left, but she’s greeted warmly by handsome actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), a heartthrob who takes her to an industry party before inviting her back to his place.  There they both undress, but before they can do anything his girlfriend Tiffany (Suki Waterhouse) returns home, and Ashleigh is forced to take refuge, wearing only her revealing underwear, on the fire escape while the rain continues.  Luckily  she’s able to grab a raincoat on the way out, and finds her way back to Gatsby. 

All this comes off as unfunny as it sounds, though Fanning plays her absurdly ditzy character as though desperate to inject some laughs into the outdated skirt-chasing material.  Chalamet fares only a bit better.  Gatsby’s odyssey, juxtaposed with Fanning’s, begins with him purchasing a cigarette holding designed to make him look debonair.  Then, after a catching-up session with a snarky ex-classmate (Ben Warheit), he wanders over to a student film shoot where he’s enlisted to take a small role kissing Shannon Tyrell (Selena Gomez), the younger sister of one of his ex-girlfriends.  He takes her back to her place, where they share some memories—and a common love of hyper-romantic movies, like one where two star-crossed lovers finally meet at some iconic spot, like the Delacorte Clock outside the Central Park Zoo.  Can you guess where this “Rainy Day” ends? 

But before then Gatsby not only visits the Guggenheim with Shan; connects with his soon-to-be-married brother Hunter (Will Rogers), who’s thinking of calling off the ceremony because he finds his fiancée’s (Annaleigh Ashford) laugh impossibly annoying; wins big at a high-stakes poker game; and finds himself nursing his sorrows at the famous Carlyle Bemelmans Bar, where her hires a hooker named Terry (Kelly Rohrbach) to impersonate the still-absent Ashleigh at a swanky party his mother (Cherry Jones) is hosting that night.  It’s a surprising tête-à-tête with his mom that causes Gatsby to grow up and make some important decisions after his future after he and Ashleigh reunite for a carriage ride in the park before catching the bus back to Yardley.

You have to admire Chalamet and Fanning for giving this hackneyed material the old college try, but the best performances come from the supporting cast, with Jones and Gomez standing out, although Schreiber, Law, Hall, Luna, Rohrbach and Rogers do okay with their smaller parts.  Santo Loquasto’s elegant production design and Vittorio Storaro’s luminous cinematography take advantage of the well-chosen interiors and exteriors, though Alisa Lepselter’s editing feels rather choppy.  As usual, the soundtrack makes use of a lot of old favorites (a couple of which Chalamet sings while doodling at a piano), starting with a Bing Crosby recording about the rain (not “Pennies from Heaven”) over the opening titles.

There are those who will be revolted at the very thought of “A Rainy Day in New York” being released, even in a very limited way.  Woody Allen’s fans—and there are still quite a few—will, on the other hand, not only want to see his forty-ninth feature but will be looking forward to the fiftieth.   Those who aren’t passionate at either extreme will find the movie distinctively Allenesque, but far from the quality of his best.