7.8 out of 10
Timothée Chalamet … Gatsby
A Rainy Day In New York Review
There’s a whimsical sense of innocence and naivete percolating Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York, an entertaining old-fashioned rom com in which a pair of attractive lovers realize their future lies with other more attractive people. The two main characters, Gatsby and Ashleigh, played by Timothée Chalamet and Elle Fanning, are meant to signify contemporary youths — albeit to the nth degree — struggling with life on opposite ends of the social pole, as it were. He’s a deadbeat snob who loathes his more culturally inspired upbringing and spends his nights gambling away his fortune, while she’s just a gal from Arizona who fawns at every celebrity she comes in contact with and is too innocuous to recognize her own irresistible sex appeal. They co-exist because, hey, she’s cute and fun and he’s sophisticated and mostly uncomplicated.
The plot ushers them to (where else?) New York, so she can interview a famed filmmaker (played by Live Schreiber) experiencing his own midlife crisis alongside a neurotic producer (played by Jude Law). Predictably, the job separates Ashleigh from Gatsby long enough for each of them to go on one of those life reflective quests where every encounter provides some form of on-the-nose commentary about their relationship.
At one point, Gatsby visits his brother and learns that he is afraid to marry his fiancé because her obnoxious laugh renders him impotent. Later, Gatsby speaks to his mother and discovers a deep family secret that completely changes his outlook on society and his personal upbringing. He even stumbles onto a movie set where he runs into Chan (Selena Gomez), a sister of a former flame, who instantly lambasts him for his completely unoriginal decision to date a girl from the desert. “What do you guys talk about? Snakes?”
Ashleigh, meanwhile, enjoys her own misadventures during which her fondness for Gatsby seems to diminish with each glass of wine.
There’s a not-so-subtle conflict in the film revolving around the finer arts versus more popular entertainment. When Gatsby refuses to go to his mother’s literary party filled with “housewives who have the leisure to pursue esoteric culture — the out of work discussing the out of print,” he casually name-drops the famed sports journalist Jimmy Cannon, who made his mark covering boxing. Oh, and Gatsby makes this observation while sitting beneath a giant mural of Marvel superheroes.
In an earlier scene, Gatsby bumps into an old chum from school who slams “Turner Classic Movie wimps,” Grace Kelly and laments the lack of toilet humor in modern films. How uncivilized. But also, what?
Basically, the whole endeavor serves mostly as an excuse for Allen, now 84, to unleash his trademark neurotic dialogue, pontify about classical artists, and critique modern culture. To that end, A Rainy Day in New York delivers in spades and works as an amusing piece of romantic cinema dripping with enough pop culture references to make cinephiles swoon. Your enjoyment of the film will greatly depend on your love of art and Hollywood in general, though Allen does paint a seedy portrait of a La-La Land infected with sleazy playboys and dejected would-be artists caked in alcohol.
Chalamet makes for an engaging enough lead, though he looks far too young to carry the kind of depression he wallows in for much of the film’s run time; and speaks and acts like a character from another century. At one point he claims his family is “a farrago of WASP plutocrats,” to which the recipient of the comment replies, “That sounds like something on the menu of a Fusion restaurant.”
Is there really a place in this world where people talk like that?
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the adorable Elle Fanning, who charms her way through a rudimentary role with aplomb. Ashleigh is (for lack of a better word) a flibbertigibbit, whose sole purpose is to make bad decisions in order to help audiences accept Gatsby’s ultimate choice at the film’s end. Yet, Fanning stimulates the character with a pleasant dose of sweetness and plucky charm that is hard to sneer at. “I certainly hope there isn’t a gun in the glove compartment like in one of your movies,” she tells a producer after he catches his wife cheating on him, so enchanted is Ashleigh by the aura of movies. Though, later we see she at least has the good sense to recognize and debate whether to accept a sexual advance from a popular actor.
A Rainy Day in New York doesn’t aspire to the same heights as Annie Hall, nor does it reach the greatness of more modern fair like Midnight in Paris. That’s because, for all the aforementioned talk revolving around art and culture, the film really boils down to a simple tale of boy meets girl. With this, Allen doesn’t traverse any new ground. Except, the man has such a strong grasp of the romantic comedy genre that even his lesser works hold some value.
You may not get much out of it, but A Rainy Day in New York still manages to stir the mind and tickle the heart.