To be completely honest, I wasn’t going to review this film formally. Not because I fear the backlash of the court of public opinion, but because I don’t think I have anything meaningful to say about this film in the first place. However, this may be a good enough reason to reflect upon the trajectory Woody Allen has been on for the better part of the last two decades.
There is no debate: A Rainy Day In New York has been buried under a rock after Allen’s alleged reputation of a lizard predator has been brought to the spotlight again. As far as I am aware, Amazon untied itself from a multi-picture deal with him. Curiously enough, I also noticed their Prime Video algorithm also stopped recommending Allen’s films, which it previously did. Even Crisis In Six Scenes, a once widely publicized collaboration between Amazon and Allen, was covertly hidden away in a cupboard under the stairs, as though to virtue signal to the film community they do not want to be associated with him in any way, shape or form.
I believe it may have been a mistake because this consolidated effort on behalf of quite a lot of people has had one profound side effect: it has convinced Allen himself that his recent films have been poorly received and buried by distributors because of a perfidious witch hunt fanned by the flames of the pervasive cancel culture. I am convinced he sees himself as a victim and a perhaps even a martyr, which effectively dismantles any feedback from audiences and critics which could inform his filmmaking. And someone should probably tell him that he hasn’t made a half-decent film since Irrational Man, a solid one since Blue Jasmine, and a great one since Midnight in Paris. In fact, it has become the norm for his films to be painfully mediocre at best and occasionally completely unwatchable (Magic in the Moonlight says ‘hello’).
A Rainy Day in New York is no exception: it’s a bad movie that didn’t need to be hidden away by distributors. On the contrary, it should have been made available for Woody Allen to understand he needs to put the camera down and retire because he has lost his touch. Over the years it has become customary to point out that he casts his leads and directs them so that they all spoke with his own voice. Because he has been consistently pumping out these movies, some viewers even grew attached to this idea and eventually found it charming. Yes, Owen Wilson’s take on a neurotic intellectual in Midnight in Paris is adorable and elevated by an honestly great screenplay. Yes, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine brings quite a lot of three-dimensionality to the same concept. But these are exceptions, not the rule!
The truth is, Allen’s insistence on writing his characters the same way each time he sits down to make a new film is only an indication he is completely incapable of evolving. He has bogged himself down in a swamp of nostalgia for his own early greatness and he is buckling under the weight of denial that he is no longer thirty-two and he can’t star opposite young Diane Keaton. He is refusing to acknowledge the simple fact he is an old man, completely out of touch with the world at large, pining for his lost youth. Who knows: maybe this is in fact a manifestation of a more severe personality disorder that connects to his reputation, the alleged child abuse and bizarrely distasteful decision to marry his own adoptive daughter?
In any case, this realization makes the decision to cast Timothée Chalamet in A Rainy Day In New York look less like an old master interacting with the brave new world of hot-blooded talent, or even like a pitiable attempt to stay relevant as a cinema scholar teaching the younglings about the glory of Golden Era Hollywood, which this film is clearly geared to do. It honestly looks like a nefarious attempt of an old pervert to puppeteer a young actor so that he could live vicariously through him, and – spoiler alert – enact his fantasy of having a romantic relationship with Selena Gomez or Elle Fanning, who are young enough to be his granddaughters.
Therefore, the take-home message is A Rainy Day in New York is an unwatchable mess that tries to hit the same chords as his older movies, tap into a nostalgic vein and maybe even reconnect with the era of Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, and his beloved hero Humphrey Bogart. However, it should not be swept under the rug; it should be allowed to fail on its own merit, even if that means being publicly eviscerated by critics and audiences. Woody Allen needs to understand that he must stop making movies and that his character, reputation and past sins are only partly responsible for that. He must stop because he can no longer make a half-decent film, let alone a masterpiece. He can’t subsist on an unhealthy nostalgia to the days of Annie Hall and The Purple Rose of Cairo, because the way he acts on these emotions make his work come across as pitiful and lewd. He is not as funny as he used to be, nor is he capable of delivering pointed one-liners summarising his intellectual neurosis as effortlessly as well. He must know he no longer has what it takes to make great films and he honestly should have retired a while ago because he is now unlikely to be remembered as an iconoclast who brought the freshness of nouvelle vague to American cinema in the 1970s or a scholar of the medium connected at the hip to Truffaut, Bergman and others. In fact, it will be inappropriate to bring him up in conversation (it already is, actually) at all and he has no-one but himself to blame.