Review: Woody Allen’s Charming, Witty, Sweet “Rainy Day in New York” Features Wonderful Performances from Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez and Cherry Jones
Woody Allen’s “Rainy Day in New York” opens the Deauville Film Festival next Friday. It opens around the world this fall, but still has no distributor in America thanks to some very narrow thinking.
I saw it this morning, and I was relieved to discover that “Rainy Day” is funny, witty, and charming, very sweet in many ways. Contrary to planted stories in the press last year, there are no inappropriate relations between a young girl and an older man. Indeed, the main characters, who are romantically involved, are all young and quite appropriate. They are played — wonderfully — by Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, and Selena Gomez. I feel bad for Chalamet. He was induced into denouncing Woody last year for no reason. In his young career, this is one of Chalamet’s best performances, as good as in “Call Me By Your Name.” He should be writing Woody a thank you note.
“Rainy Day” takes place in Woody’s New York– upscale, wealthy, beautifully appointed. Chalamet plays Gatsby, a college kid from a very rich Upper East Side family with an older, successful brother and and much older parents. Tony winner Cherry Jones is his mother, a socialite and then some, who has a jaw dropping scene toward the end of the film that merits acclaim on all levels.
Gatsby is not much of a student. He’s been kicked out of one Ivy League school, and he’s failing Yardley, a small liberal arts college. He comes into New York with his girlfriend, Ashleigh, played by Fanning, who is at once naive about the adult world and urban life, but savvy enough about sex and relationships. She’s on the cusp. The two of them are child like adults who know everything and nothing at the same time. They are also in a fable. “Rainy Day” takes place in a heightened reality, it is not meant to be reality. (I do think a couple of early reviewers didn’t get this.) Gatsby and Ashleigh are like Alfalfa and Darla in formal wear.
Ashleigh goes off to interview a famous director named Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), who’s suffering ennui after making what he calls a “70 million dollar pile of stinking shit.” Gatsby goes on a bildungsroman day of adventure in the city while he waits for her. Among the people he encounters is Gomez, playing the younger sister of a girl he dated in high school. They have instant chemistry. Gomez is a revelation.
The set up is nice because Woody sends these two young lovers off in separate directions, only to return to each other, sort of. Together, Chalamet and Fanning are lovely, and funny, like a younger Alvy Singer and Annie Hall. But apart they are so strong that they can carry their own loads through the movie. Their stories are nice parallels because they each think they are world-weary and so knowledgeable, and yet they have a lot to learn.
What you will notice is that Gatsby, Ashleigh, and Shannon don’t talk like young people on MTV or in teen movies. They are educated, wise, and Salinger-esque. Again, this is heightened reality. They may remind you a little of the kids in Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan.” Woody may have picked up their speech patterns from his own daughters’ (he has two college age girls with wife Soon Yi) friends. Gatsby only really knows the Upper East Side world: the art, museums, charities, stores, foreign films, literature, etc. He’s obsessed with old movies and old music. He can play the piano, and at one point he sits down at one and sings the jazz standard, “Everything Happens to Me,” so disarmingly, it reminded me of Diane Keaton singing “Seems Like Old Times” in “Annie Hall.”
So how would Gatsby, who’s maybe 21, know this song and all these old movies? (He references a lot of them.) Again, this is a fable, and the more you learn about his odd-duckiness, the more you accept it. He’s not putting it on. And Chalamet is utterly believable selling this idea. Gatsby is an old soul. I can’t imagine one teenage girl missing that scene of him at the piano. Woody has also made him– a very smart character point– a gambler, an adept and successful poker player who is sort of his own Molly Bloom. If thee were a sequel, he’d be going to jail with Helly Nahmad.
“Rainy Day” is full of jokes and good laughs, throw away one liners, and meaningful Woody observations. “The city has its own agenda” is one that New Yorkers will identify with thoroughly. I also loved “Time flies. Unfortunately, it flies coach.” Gatsby tells Shannon this mother’s parties are like “a farrago of plutocrats,” to which she replies, “that sounds like something in a fusion restaurant.” Diego Luna’s movie star character is described as having “set himself on fire to protest climate change.”
There’s really good work from the supporting cast, as usual, including Liev Schreiber as RP (Roman Polanski? No…), Jude Law as a cuckolded producer (he and Rebecca Hall have a hilarious argument outside an apartment building), plus Suki Waterhouse, Griffin Newman, Annaleigh Ashford, Will Rogers, and Kathryn Leigh Scott. Vittorio Storraro’s buttery cinematography warms every scene. And Santo Loquasto’s sets are something out a Fifth Avenue fantasy, you’ve never seen homes like these. And you never will, except here.
Unlike some of Woody’s films since “Blue Jasmine,” his last major film (there have been four– Wonder Wheel, Magic in the Moonlight, Cafe Society, and Irrational Man), “Rainy Day” is a full structure, three act play that’s completely focused and satisfying. I remember Hamish Linklaker singing and strumming the guitar in “Magic in the Moonlight”– it was a good idea, but didn’t work. Now it’s reborn here and they pull it off. What can you do? “Rainy Day” is a romantic movie with a happy ending and no end of sly fun. Americans will love it. Put it in theaters, someone, please.