Woody Allen has been making movies for 55 years now, at the approximate rate of one every year. On the evidence of his latest film, it might finally be time for him to stop.
"A Rainy Day in New York" was collateral damage in the collapse of Allen's four-film distribution deal with Amazon Studios, which pulled out of it after the revival of a 1992 sexual-abuse allegation by Allen's adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow. (Allen angrily rejected this charge and was never tried on it, although two judges left open the door to doubt about his denial.)
"A Rainy Day" was released in Europe last year, but it's taken till now to find a U.S. distributor (a low-profile company called MPI Media Group). In the interim, two of the movie's stars — Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Hall — have publicly expressed regret about being involved in the film.
So what do we have here? "A Rainy Day in New York" is a rote, sour story set in Allen's customary narrative precinct: the world of wealthy white people. As a longtime Allen fan, I've never found this objectionable: Wealthy people and white people exist and are not without interest. But this time around, they're so assertively upper-class that they suggest their creator has run out of either ideas or inspiration. He's certainly low on energy.
The story concerns a rudderless rich kid who, I'm afraid, is named Gatsby (Chalamet), a product of Manhattan's Upper East Side now stuck in an upstate college of little distinction. He has a girlfriend, Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), who hails from Arizona (a target of automatic derision by the movie's other characters). Ashleigh works on the school paper and has somehow scored an interview with a hip filmmaker named Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber). This will require her to journey to Manhattan. Gatsby, who, of course, knows the city well, is happy to accompany her (although she hasn't asked): He'll take her to the Weegee photo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, then dinner at Daniel, then a sophisticated nightcap at Bemelmans bar in the Carlyle Hotel.
These plans naturally go awry when Ashleigh's interview session with the flirtatious Pollard leads to an encounter with the likewise-smitten screenwriter Ted Davidoff (Jude Law) and then a hunky movie star named Francisco Vega (Diego Luna). Francisco also puts the moves on Ashleigh and ends up driving her out into the street on a rainy night in her underwear.
Meanwhile, Gatsby, dejected about Ashleigh's extended absence, encounters a woman called Chan (Selena Gomez), the younger sister of a girl he used to date. (Chan is much more interesting now.) Gomez, with her husky voice and all-grown-up smile, is the liveliest character in the movie. (It helps that she gets the best of Allen's dialogue, which is otherwise listless and condescending — such as when out-of-town rube Ashleigh recalls a childhood visit to Manhattan during which her mother "couldn't believe you could buy a Birkin bag and a Rolex off a blanket on the street for only $200.")
Allen the writer seems to be on autopilot with this movie. Quite a bit of the dialogue sounds like Woody-esque one-liners; Fanning seems to have been instructed to ape the speech rhythms of Allen's old partner, Diane Keaton; and Chalamet — who's surprisingly bad here — often sounds like he's taking part in a rehearsal. (Was the director napping through this performance?)
It also seems odd that Gatsby, who's in his early 20s, has such a passionate appreciation of "old Broadway tunes" and songs by the likes of Bing Crosby and Erroll Garner. Who else do we know who digs that stuff?
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.