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‘A Rainy Day in New York’: Woody Allen’s soggy script drips with dated humor

The people in this retread do creepy things and, though living in this century, seem to know about nothing after Mark Rothko and ‘Gigi.’

College students Gatsby (Timothee Chalamet) and Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) hope to spend some romantic time in Manhattan in “A Rainy Day in New York.”
MPI Media Group/Signature Entertainment

If not for the occasional cell phone conversation, you might think Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” was set in the 1950s, given everyone talks as if time and particularly culture stopped somewhere around the end of the Eisenhower administration. Of course, this being a Woody Allen movie, everyone also talks a little bit like Woody Allen — and while that was once charming and original (albeit a little sketchy) in the days of “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” and “Hannah and Her Sisters,” it’s now ludicrous and in some cases downright creepy.

Sidelined by Amazon Studios in 2018 after renewed controversy surrounding allegations dating back to 1992 of assault by Allen’s adoptive daughter Dylan, “A Rainy Day in New York” is only now getting a release after Allen reacquired the U.S. rights earlier this year. This is the 50th movie for the 84-year-old filmmaker, and it plays like a glossy, semi-clever retread of, yes, earlier and better work. From the same old same old opening credits to the use of old-timey classics such as “I Got Lucky in the Rain” and “Everything Happens to Me” to the focus on wealthy one-percenters gliding through an idyllic version of New York City, we have seen this movie before.

The effortlessly charming Timothee Chalamet plays the tweedy and quite preppy Gatsby Welles — I’m not kidding, that’s really his name — a self-involved little twerp who is attending the fictional Yardley liberal arts college with a minimum of enthusiasm and making big scores as a high-stakes cash game poker player, though the one brief scene where we see Gatsby playing Hold ’Em does little to convince us this guy’s a shark. Gatsby has struck up a romance with Elle Fanning’s Ashleigh, a fellow Yardley student and aspiring journalist from Arizona (cue the jokes about cacti and Republicans) who has scored an interview with the legendary director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), famous for films such as “Winter Memories,” which we can only hope is better than that title. The interview will be in New York, so Gatsby suggests they make a whole day of it. Once Ashleigh finishes her brief interview, Gatsby will show her around his beloved Manhattan and take her to the places that mean the most to him.

Ashleigh giggles like a child around the 50ish Pollard and sounds more like a fan-girl than a journalist, but he takes a shine to her (ahem) because she reminds him of his first wife, and before you know it, Ashleigh is an insider in Pollard’s world — watching a rough cut of his new film, joining Pollard’s longtime writing collaborator Ted (Jude Law) on an impromptu caper as Ted spots his unfaithful wife Connie (Rebecca Hall) emerging from his best friend’s apartment, and even getting swept up in a possible romance with the famous leading man Francisco Vega (Diego Luna) — all in the course of a few rainy hours. Meanwhile, Gatsby is experiencing his own improbable series of events. At one point he wanders around a street corner and runs into an old chum who is making a short film, and the old chum asks Gatsby to appear in the movie, and the next thing you know Gatsby is in the front seat of a car with one Chan Tyrell (Selena Gomez), who just happens to be the younger sister of Gatsby’s ex-girlfriend, and the scene calls for the two of them to kiss, passionately. For multiple takes.

Sigh.

Selena Gomez plays an actress called upon to kiss Gatsby.
MPI Media Group/Signature Entertainment

Throughout the respective and separate adventures of Gatsby and Ashleigh, the curiously dated cultural references fly this way and that. A boorish former classmate of Gatsby’s laughs out loud when he hears the name of Gatsby’s new girlfriend: “Like Ashley Wilkes from ‘Gone with the Wind’?” Right, because there haven’t been a kajillion Ashley/Ashleigh/Ashlees in recent times. There are references to Charlie Parker and Mark Rothko, movies such “Gigi” and “Out of the Past.” Ashleigh says of Gatsby, “In his wildest dreams, he’d like to be Sky Masterson.” We also get some astonishingly inappropriate and unfunny stabs at humor, as when we’re told, “The word on Amy was she performed oral sex at a bar mitzvah” — not to mention the appearance of yet another Wise Prostitute In A Woody Allen movie.

Double sigh.

Shot in rich, deliberately overly cinematic tones by Vittorio Storaro designed to showcase New York City in the best possible light in more ways than one, “A Rainy Day in New York” is a great-looking film. Even a warmed-over, behind-the-times Woody Allen script is going to contain some choice one-liners, and this is a superb cast that knows how to put the right spin on clever dialogue — even when they’re playing thinly drawn characters in a dated and unnecessary story.