Woody Allen has long had a practice of making one movie per year. That consistency has led to mixed results. Every so often he comes up with a real winner like Blue Jasmine or Midnight in Paris. In between those winners are a string of mediocrities such as Wonder Wheel, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and Anything Else. Allen's latest, A Rainy Day in New York, definitely falls into the latter category. Despite good performances, it feels like a retread of so many of his previous efforts.
Timothee Chalamet stars as Gatsby, a pretentious college student whose girlfriend, Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), gets an amazing opportunity. She's invited to New York to interview her favorite director, Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber). Gatsby, a Big Apple native, figures this will be a great time to show her around the city. Once they get there, nothing goes according to plan. Pollard, who takes a liking to Ashleigh, has a bit of a meltdown, so the writer of his new movie, Ted (Jude Law), asks her to intervene. This eventually puts her in proximity to Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), a superstar on whom she has a crush. Ashleigh's lack of availability leaves Gatsby to occupy himself. In the process of doing so, he's reunited with Chan (Selena Gomez), the alluring younger sister of a girl he once dated.
Woody Allen is probably not the best person to make a movie about modern-day college kids. Gatsby, Ashleigh, and Chan don't talk like people in their early twenties, they talk like an 84-year-old screenwriter. I don't know too many folks of that age who casually drop references to Gigi and Ludwig Bemelmans into conversation, do you? Because these do not feel like real young adults, their entanglements don't feel especially authentic either. It's hard to imagine what the semi-clueless Ashleigh sees in Gatsby (or what he sees in her), and Chan doesn't come across as somebody who would be attracted to his peculiar affectations.
Thematically, there's a lot of repetition here. Allen doesn't have anything new to talk about. A man trying to choose between his girlfriend and another woman he's drawn to? That's Manhattan. A movie director having an existential career crisis? He did that in Stardust Memories. A major city used as the backdrop for romantic complications? Remember To Rome with Love and Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Nothing about A Rainy Day in New York feels fresh.
What saves the picture, marginally, is the acting. Even if we don't entirely believe the characters, the performers do admirable work and are fun to watch. Chalamet is suitably self-enchanted as Gatsby, while Fanning earns some laughs portraying the ditzy-but-sincere Ashleigh. Gomez wisely doesn't play Chan as a temptress but rather as someone smart enough to see through – and be amused by – Gatsby. Perhaps the best turn comes from Schreiber, who brings great subtlety to the self-disparaging Pollard.
Watching the stars do their respective things is pleasurable and, this being a Woody Allen screenplay, there are of course some funny moments. Those famous Allen zingers elicit intermittent chuckles. A Rainy Day in New York has a stellar cast doing admirable work in a story with no new or particularly exciting avenues for its maker to go down. It certainly isn't Allen's worst film, but it's not in the upper echelon either.
out of four
A Rainy Day in New York is rated PG-13 for mature suggestive content, some drug use, smoking, language and partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.