Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 2, 2020)
From 1982 through 2017, Woody Allen directed at least one movie a year. Indeed, after 1977’s Oscar-winning Annie Hall, Allen only skipped one year over that span, as he went “film-free” in 1981.
However, after 2017’s Wonder Wheel, no Allen flick came out in 2018 – though he’d completed one. 2019’s A Rainy Day in New York filmed in 2017 and finished in 2018, but controversies kept it on the shelf.
Via the Me Too Movement, Allen became persona non grata in some circles due to allegations of past sexual abuse on the filmmaker’s part. Apparently these made producers skittish, so Day didn’t get any kind of release until 2019, and US audiences didn’t enjoy the chance to see it until an extremely limited theatrical exhibition in 2020.
As far as I can tell, the accusations against Allen remain unresolved, as they seem to remain in “he said, she said” territory. As such, that portion of this discussion ends here and I’ll simply judge the movie on its own merits. It felt disingenuous to avoid the topic entirely, though.
College student and journalism major Ashleigh Ennright (Elle Fanning) gets the chance to interview famous filmmaker Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) in New York City. Her boyfriend Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet) decides to accompany her, as he hopes they can make a romantic weekend of the trip.
Alas, circumstances intervene and harpoon Gatsby’s plans. As precipitation falls on the Big Apple, a series of misadventures conspire to keep the young lovers from each other.
It feels like every time I review a Woody Allen movie, I note that he last produced a wholly satisfying movie in 2005 with Match Point. Most of his efforts since then felt fairly limp, though a few worked moderately well.
Part of the reason Point succeeded stemmed from Allen’s choice to make something wholly different from his usual fare. Not only did the film separate the filmmaker from his beloved Manhattan, but also he went for a drama with an unusual tone.
With Day, though, Allen completely embraces his stereotypical MO, as everything about the movie falls into his standard domain. While no one does “Woody Allen” better than Woody Allen, I think he used up that vein of comedy decades ago.
That means Day feels like self-parody much of the time. We get the usual liberal, arts-obsessed, hoity-toity New Yorkers – ie, people just like him – and they fail to become anything more than thin stereotypes.
Allen desperately wants to make Day into a brisk screwball comedy, but he fails miserably. He populates the film with characters who don’t exist in the real world, and his stilted dialogue can’t compensate for the participants’ basic lack of realism.
In Day, we find young adults who casually refer to Gone With the Wind’s Ashley Wilkes, Yasser Arafat, Gigi and Grace Kelly.
No one under the age of 60 would offer these allusions, and not even the most pretentious liberal elite 20-somethings would talk like this. Though the characters lack the usual Allen stammer, all exist as variations on his self-obsessed theme, and this makes them painful to watch.
At his best, Allen found humor and insight from his observations, but now in his 80s, he can’t find anything fresh or clever to say. He throws out overly-written lines like odd references to a “state of the art overbite”, quips that sound sly but mean absolutely nothing.
As usual, Allen recruits a solid cast. In addition to Chalamet, Fanning and Schreiber, we get “names” like Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna and Rebecca Hall.
Not a single one can elevate their annoying, thinly composed roles. Contrived and persistently annoying, the characters become an active problem. Given that Day offers a character-focused comedy, our disdain for the participants turns into a major problem.
Once upon a time, Woody Allen was a major talent. That time ended years ago, and A Rainy Day in New York finds the artist in severe decline.