SAY THE NAME “Woody Allen” and if you’re able to remember a time before this filmmaker was branded as a sexual predator who had an affair with – among others – the child that he and his then wife, Mia Farrow adopted, you will think of the proverbial “nebbish”. Historically, in his films, the Woody Allen character is self-deprecating to the nth degree. Bent into his idea of where he does or does not fit into society, his Jewishness, conjoined with his need to hyper-analyse every situation is cringe-worthy as it is hilarious. And through many of his films made in the 1960s, 1970s and beyond, this became his signature and draw card.
A Rainy Day in New York is no different. You have Timothée Chalamet cast in the role of a young man by the name of “Gatsby”, who has all the showy brash bravado and nervous over-analytical self-deprecating energy of Allen himself in his most iconic roles. He’s immensely annoying. With his blond bombshell university girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) on his arm, a penchant for gambling in his heart and a bit of a university commitment tossed in nonchalantly on the side, he sets the tone for the film.
The girlfriend of course represents the ideal “shiksa”, the girl who encapsulates all the good things that not being a self-hating Jew in America entails. But she’s interchangeable in the most primal of ways, as you discover in the delicious heart of this film, where Gatsby’s mother (Cherry Jones) offers a narrative gem that turns this otherwise fairly anodyne film inside out and saves it from being a crude essay on white privilege. This moment is a device, which, like that in Hal Ashby’s (1971) perfect coming-of-age romance Harold and Maude brings together a number of ostensibly red herrings in the work and gives them a reason to be.
Of course there is a whole plot in this film which references the vulnerabilities and flaws in the film industry itself, taking the young blond on a joyride which can only end in a pot of cynicism.
But you don’t have to be self-deprecating or even Jewish to engage with the issues that Allen is raising here. Rainy Day is cast with the clever sense of tongue-in-cheek that plays with types in the same way that classical filmmaking of the 1940s did. And in many ways, the beauty evoked by works of the ilk of Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, are brought to the fore here: the character Chan, played by Selena Gomez is an absolute peach for the role, bringing in all the ideas of young lust, love and possibility, beautifully.
All in all, it’s a sweet, but forgettable film. The main delicious component of it, however, that may urge you to see it more than once, is its embrace of New York as its backdrop, in terms of the streets, the apartments, the art gallery. You can almost smell the energy of this city. And it’s addictive.
- A Rainy Day in New York is directed by Woody Allen and features a cast headed by Annaleigh Ashford, Jacob Berger, Gus Birney, Taylor Black, Elijah Boothe, Olivia Boreham-Wing, Mary Boyer, Timothée Chalamet, Deniz Demirer, Patricia Dunnock, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Rebecca Hall, Jonathan Hogan, Edward James Hyland, Cherry Jones, Jonathan Judge-Russo, Pat Kiernan, Jude Law, Catherine LeFrere, Diego Luna, Frank Marzullo, Cole Matson, Kirby Mitchell, Ted Neustadt, Griffin Newman, Annika Pergament, Dylan Prince, Will Rogers, Kelly Rohrbach, Liev Schreiber, Geoff Schuppert, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Suzanne Smith, Don Stephenson, Ben Warheit, Suki Waterhouse, Tyler Weaks and Gary Wilmes. It is written by Woody Allen and, produced by Erika Aronson and Letty Aronson, it features creative input by Vittorio Storaro (cinematography), Alisa Lepselter (editing), Patricia DiCerto (casting) and Santo Loquasto (production design), and released in South Africa on October 19, 2019.