One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 19
By Laurence Lerman
It’s the second week of October, and a new Woody Allen film is opening in theaters for the first time since his last film, Wonder Wheel, was released in December 2017. That’s nearly three years ago, marking the longest lag time between the writer/director’s film openings in nearly a half-century.
A Rainy Day in New York is Woody Allen’s 48th feature film in just about as many years (by my count) and one that nearly fell prey to the cancel culture that continues to sledgehammer its way across the landscape, nearly resulting in the film remaining unreleased in his home country. Cooler and more intelligent heads prevailed, thanks to the Chicago-based distributor MPI Media Group, and today Woody’s first film to be set primarily in Manhattan since 2009‘s Whatever Works can finally be seen. That it’s only being exhibited in select theaters around the country and cannot be viewed in Manhattan where the theaters remain closed is a punchline worthy of Woody’s days as a stand-up comic in the early Sixties.
Nonetheless, its opening warrants a review by a dedicated fan.
A Rainy Day’s story begins with two college sweethearts from an upstate liberal arts school à la Bard, Manhattan-born Gatsby (Timothée Chalamet) and Arizona beauty queen Ashleigh (Elle Fanning), who set out for a romantic weekend in the city, prompted by Ashleigh scoring an interview with a hot filmmaker (Liev Schreiber). After making it to New York City, the two good-looking young people with the movie-ish names each go their own way—Ashleigh to a Soho hotel to meet with the director, Gatsby to see his brother and play some cards. Twenty minutes in the rain begins to fall, and a mildly madcap if unexceptional adventure begins, moving forward in fits and starts, just like the precipitative weather.
A pure comedy-romance that hearkens back to the magical New York City of Everyone Says I Love You and Hannah and Her Sisters, A Rainy Day in New York ain’t in the orbit of those two—not by a long shot—but it’s the right movie at the right time for the both the filmmaker and his fans. Woody’s fanciful New York City is filled with beautiful hotel suites, luxurious townhouses, gorgeously appointed sitting rooms, jazz-filled lounges and high-end restaurants, along with the kind of privileged characters that rattle off references to Ortega y Gasset, Grace Kelly, Renoir, Jimmy Cannon, Tom Adair, De Sica, Rothko and Virginia Woolf in passing—and that’s just in the first half hour. (Okay, okay—it’s not realistic that they’d be making these kinds of comments, but privilege has its benefits.)
Taking a look out the window at Gotham today following seven months of COVID-19 infestation, it’s hard to believe that Woody's Manhattan—the one he filmed not even three years ago—has, for now, disappeared, as have many of its denizens. And even though it's an upscale New York experienced by only the smallest fraction of moviegoers, seeing it in A Rainy Day gives it all an almost nostalgic appeal, particularly when it’s so lovingly shot by ace DP Vittorio Storaro.
The performances are all fine, with Chalamet acquitting himself quite well as the Woody surrogate, just like John Cusack (Bullets Over Broadway), Jesse Eisenberg (Café Society), Jason Biggs (Anything Else) and a bunch of others before him. Fanning isn’t nearly as deft as the Tucson shiksa fending off the non-threatening advances of such New York types as Schreiber’s vain filmmaker, Jude Law’s uptight screenwriter and Diego Luna’s cocksure movie star, but she’s cute enough. More appealing is Chalamet’s possible new romantic partner Selena Gomez, who knows her way around a Woody one-liner (“A farrago of WASP plutocrats? Sounds like something on the menu at a fusion restaurant.”) and Cherry Jones as his hoity-toity mother with a past.
A Rainy Day in New York isn’t great Woody—there’s nothing really new here, with Woody reheating the triangular romance fare that he’s served up more than once—but it’s a fine welcome home for one of the greatest filmmakers ever to emerge from New York City and continue to embrace it on film. The final scene finds a pair of lovers sweetly kissing in front of the beloved Delacorte Musical Clock outside the Central Park Zoo as it once again begins to rain. And for right now, that’ll do just fine.
Okay, now comes the inevitable talk about zombie movies, that international horror subgenre that’s good for a least a dozen films a year. It’s almost as if there’s an unspoken requirement for youngish filmmakers to make a fresh zombie flick early in their careers as if it’s some kind of Film Production 101 final project. (I don’t know if I’d go so far as to refer to a zombie flick as a dissertation.)
Every year or so, an exceptional one emerges from the horde—2015’s The Girl with All The Gifts from England and 2016’s Train to Busan from South Korea stand out, while, from Hollywood, 2018’s Overlord was worth seeing, as was my favorite guilty pleasure of last year, Zombieland: Double Tap (mostly due to the inspired performance of adorable Zoey Deutch as a ditsy So-Cal survivor).
Another tasty South Korean tasty zombie morsel, 2020’s #Alive, from debuting feature filmmaker Il Cho, popped up on Netflix last month to an avalanche of positive press, all of it deserved. As much a zombie saga as an urban siege movie à la Gareth Evans’ 2011 genre-definer The Raid, #Alive comes out of the gate with teenager Joon-wo (Yoo Ah-In) awakening late one morning in his family’s downtown Seoul high-rise to discover that his parents are out, he’s all alone, and his building and block are in the midst of being overtaken by throngs of cannibalistic zombies (what else?). From that point on, it’s all about Joon-wo trying to survive both the zombies clawing at his barricaded door and scaling his building’s walls, and the growing hunger and thirst in his belly. Meanwhile, there’s a seemingly nice gal in the apartment across the courtyard with whom the young gamer begins to get on well via hand signals, binoculars and the crafty use of his drone and their shared social media savvy.
There aren’t any backstories or many characters in #Alive, just a lot of momentum, tension and appropriately gruesome gore, abetted by a few nice shocks. It’s cool and contemporary and worth catching, complete with a memorable climax that plays like a twisted, post-zombie apocalypse variation on The Graduate, with its protagonists sitting next to each other and unsure of their future…as they check their smartphones for any updates.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.