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Harry Mount - A Rainy Day in New York

Arts | By Harry Mount

Echoes of Woody Allen through the ages

Is Woody Allen trapped in the 1950s?

A Rainy Day in New York is set in modern Manhattan, but all the references in this quite engaging coming-of-age drama are to Allen’s own youth 65 years ago.

The opening music is Bing Crosby’s I Got Lucky in the Rain; the opening titles are in black and white, in an old-fashioned font. The two preppy leads, Elle Fanning and Timothée Chalamet, are ostensibly undergraduates today – but their fictional upstate university, Yardley, is a classical campus, straight out of 1950.

She wears a bobby soxer’s outfit; he’s permanently in a tweed jacket. The scenes are in the best of old New York (all a stone’s throw from Allen’s own house, incidentally): the zoo in Central Park; the time capsules of Manhattan’s smartest hotels. Chalamet’s character quotes Cole Porter, uses a cigarette-holder and is even called Gatsby, for God’s sake.

You might say all this escapism is there in order to, well, escape Allen’s disastrous personal life: the divorce from Mia Farrow, the marriage to his adopted daughter and the allegations of sexual abuse of another daughter.

But in a triumph of chutzpah – or narcissism – the film is full of brazen references to yawning age gaps between elderly film directors and nymphet leads.

The spine of the film is the doomed love affair between Ashleigh (Fanning, brilliant as the gauche ingénue) and Gatsby (Chalamet, convincing as the paranoid intellectual, like a much better-looking, young Allen). Gatsby is torn between Ashleigh and Chan (Selena Gomez), another young beauty.

On their trip to New York, Ashleigh is due to interview Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), a much older film director keen to seduce her – yes, you’re supposed to think of that other disgraced film director Roman Polanski.

Once Ashleigh has met Pollard, she is swept into a world of yet more older men who want to seduce her. There’s Ted Davidoff, Pollard’s colleague, played by Jude Law with a good New York accent and a paranoid intellectual manner – like a better-looking, middle-aged Allen.

Then there’s the impossibly handsome Francisco Vega (Diego Luna), who successfully seduces Ashleigh. When Ashleigh runs off with him, the jilted Gatsby even says, ‘What is it about older guys and younger women?’ Come on, Woody – I know you’re angry but you could be a little more subtle.

Written and directed by Allen, 84, the film is littered with his trademark quips. They’re now more mournful and less frenetic. But they still depend on the main Allen joke – a kind of intellectual bathos, contrasting highbrow showing-off with self-deprecating pay-offs.

So Ashleigh gushes to Pollard about her heroes – Van Gogh, Rothko and Virginia Woolf – before suddenly realising they all killed themselves. She turns from intellectual and keen to impress to mortified and embarrassed –a classic Allen mood shift.

It’s light, frothy, pretty enjoyable stuff, but you can see why Allen had to fight for two years to get this 2018 film on screen. If there are moral questions over a writer-director’s behaviour, his films have to be very good to go on being made.

To be fair to Allen, he's still been convicted of nothing, whereas Jeffrey Epstein was a convicted serial paedophile. His crimes are treated seriously and without sensation in the gripping Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich.

Epstein conducted what one commentator describes memorably as a ‘molestation pyramid scheme’. Once he’d got a girl (usually from a poor and/or broken background) into his clutches, he trapped her with his money, made her dependent on him and then got her to lure more girls into his gilded net.

The eyewitness allegations of Prince Andrew consorting with Virginia Roberts, one of those poor girls, are not edifying.

This story was from July 2020 issue. Subscribe Now