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DVD/Blu-ray: A Rainy Day in New York | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: A Rainy Day in New York

DVD/Blu-ray: A Rainy Day in New York

Woody Allen's latest paean to the city of his dreams is witty, polished, and worrying

They'll take Manhattan: Elle Fanning and Timothée Chalamet

“Know thyself” is the theme of A Rainy Day in New York. Woody Allen’s 48th film as writer-director, is – despite what you may have heard – at once his funniest and most reflective movie in years. Either wilfully archaic or stubbornly nostalgic, as his later work has tended to be, its story of a privileged youth who learns he must reject the life prescribed for him by an overbearing parent is universal; Allen’s unfamiliarity with Gen Z lingo and smarts doesn’t invalidate its core truths.

Issued on DVD and Blu-ray (without extras) in the UK 52 days after its VOD release, the film remains unseen by the American public thanks to distributors’ reluctance to associate themselves with Allen, or, more likely, their fear of being unable to market his films successfully these days owing to #MeToo's resurrection of unproven allegations that he abused his seven-year-old adopted daughter Dylan in 1992. “There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote – was Allen ruefully meditating on that idea when he christened A Rainy Day's protagonist Gatsby? His last name is Welles (equally arch), and we should remember that Orson Welles also became a Hollywood outcast.

Gatsby (Timothée Chalamet) is neither a Long Island bootlegger nor an enfant terrible of stage and screen, but a melancholy, unmotivated undergraduate at the fictitious upstate college Yardley: a boho wannabe with a love of the venerable Carlyle Hotel and Irving Berlin, he’s as switched on to 2020 as Philip Marlowe was to 1973 in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Chalomet’s young wastrel here is more soulful and complex than his 19th century equivalent Laurie in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019). The 24-year-old actor's channelling of Allen’s persona is exceptional.

The daughter of a rich Tucson banker, Gatsby’s bubbly campus reporter girlfriend Ashleigh (a game Elle Fanning) has scored an interview in Manhattan with a famous director, so the pair decide to make a day and night of it there. Gatsby plans to wine and dine Ashleigh in his favourite old-fashioned bars and restaurants, throwing in a trip to a Weegee exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and a night at the Pierre hotel with a room overlooking Central Park. 

However, Ashleign is quickly diverted from this fuddy-duddyish programme by a chance to hang out with the agonizing director (Liev Schreiber). She subsequently teams up with his screenwriter (Jude Law) to find the director after he disappears on a binge and then takes up with their paparazzi-hounded star (Diego Luna). Rebecca Hall has a amall part as the adulterous wife of the serially adulterous screenwriter.

Ashleigh is an uncultured ditz like the one played by Lysette Anthony in Husband and Wives (1992), but – for all her naivety – a calculating, opportunistic one. Allen's jeering at "dumb blondes" is antediluvian, and having Ashleigh run around in her undies in a bedroom farce episode is exploitative. That she’s preyed upon by three powerful older men – director, writer, and star – is horribly realistic.

In Ashleigh’s absence, Gatsby enjoys a low-level existential crisis, swaps barbs with a previous gilrfriend's younger sister, Chan (Selena Gomez, at her best as a woman shielding her vulnerability with sarcasm), after being hungrily kissed by her on a student movie shoot in Greenwich Village. Chan fleetingly comes to the fore, both emotionally and visually via Vittorio Storaro’s compositions of her leading Gatsby around the Metropolitan Museum. An encounter there forces him to attend a swank party being thrown by the domineering Mrs. Welles (Cherry Jones) that he’d hoped to avoid – his bar pickup Terry (Kelly Rohrbach) in tow as a surrogate Ashleigh. A lifechanging showdown ensues.

Though A Rainy Day uses the peripatetic structure of Allen’s Celebrity (1998), the fact that Terry is a hooker posits the film as Deconstructing Harry (1997) in reverse. A prostitute is one of sixty-something novelist Harry’s companions on the journey of self-discovery he takes to an out-of-town college. A natural intellect and a gifted pianist still in his teens – and a potentially self-destructive high-stakes gambler – Gatsby travels away from college into a milieu he loves and in which he can thrive. The crucial choice he makes as the film draws to a close at first seems surprising, but – like that made by the Owen Wilson character in Midnight in Paris (2011) – involves a rejection of shallowness and materialism.

Moodily photographed by Storaro, A Rainy Day is Allen’s finest ode to the city since Manhattan (1979). If it lacks that film’s mastery and gravitas, it shares its knowledge that the spirit of place plays a part in the evolution of feelings. It would make a fascinating double bill with John Crowley’s The Goldfinch (2019), an honourable failure about another set of confused grown-up children at play in old New York.

Timothée Chalamet’s wastrel here is more soulful than his 'Little Women' equivalent

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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