After a film career that has spanned around half a century so far, veteran writer and director Woody Allen gets nostalgic about reckless youth in his latest comedy A Rainy Day in New York. The plot follows a student couple whose impromptu getaway to Manhattan inadvertently splits into two separate adventures. Rich kid Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet) runs into old friend Chan (Selena Gomez) as he dodges a reunion with his family, whilst his aspiring journalist girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) gets more than she bargained for when interviewing a hotshot filmmaker for the school paper.
Influential references are clearly cited in the name given to the central character, but the debonair protagonist is arguably more akin to Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s seminal novel The Catcher in the Rye. Mimicking the director’s schtick with a mix of entitled arrogance and angsty anxiety, and firing off pithy putdowns at will, Gatsby is unmistakeably and enjoyably Allen-esque. His side of the story is simple yet smart as he trades verbal blows with the wily younger sister of his ex, but Ashleigh’s path is more chequered as she encounters a string of older ‘struggling artist’ types with varying degrees of sleaze.
For better or worse, Allen’s writing is stamped with his trademark traits and tropes, and his films benefit from having unconvoluted plots. Fortunately, this effort has a relatively stripped-back narrative, and Vittorio Storaro’s golden cinematography gives the weather-beaten New York streets a shimmering glow that suitably accompanies the self-indulgent wistful style. However, for a movie centring around millennials, the tone does feel very out of touch with the current younger generation, particularly with the clumsily dated representation of Ashleigh’s wide-eyed ‘ditsy blonde’ persona.
Though the parts they are given feel plucked from another period of time, Chalamet and Fanning give good performances and relish the opportunity to deliver the quippy dialogue a Woody Allen script is famous for. While Gatsby and Ashleigh are cookie-cutter characters taken straight from the writer’s recipe book, supporting role Chan is far more interesting, and is portrayed with scene-stealing guile by Selena Gomez. The best from the rest of the cast is Cherry Jones who plays Gatsby’s wealthy mother in an excellent scene where she tells her son some revelatory home truths.
When an acquaintance of Gatsby’s comments in a dive bar how ‘time flies’, he wittily replies ‘yes, but unfortunately it flies coach’. This cynical retort illustrates how we never truly appreciate being young until it is too late, and this captures the sentiment of A Rainy Day in New York; a mixed-bag of movie that can’t, but also doesn’t really want to, escape the past.