Woody Allen's "A Rainy Day In New York" deserves to be released

Associated PressIn this Tuesday, July 2, 2019 photo, director Woody Allen attends a press conference at La Scala opera house, in Milan, Italy.

Great filmmakers get great performances from members of their casts. Some of their actors and actresses win Academy Awards.

Writer-director Woody Allen has earned Oscars of his own, and he’s shepherded a number of performances to Academy Award victories.

Allen has received three Oscars for original screenplay (“Annie Hall,” “Hannah And Her Sisters,” and “Midnight In Paris”), and he has a directing win for “Annie Hall.” Overall, Allen’s been nominated for an Academy Award twenty-four times: sixteen for screenwriting, seven for directing, and once for acting.

After appearing in his movies, Diane Keaton, Cate Blanchett, Michael Caine, Penelope Cruz, Mira Sorvino, and Dianne Wiest (twice) won acting Oscars.

There are three performances in Allen’s banned-in-the-United States “A Rainy Day In New York” that are Oscar-worthy.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is sacrosanct and censorship is unacceptable; however, in the motion picture business money talks, and a person holding the purse strings at Amazon Studios, which produced “A Rainy Day In New York,” decided that the romantic comedy would not see the light from a theater projector.

According to Amazon, it was refusing to release the film to the American moviegoing public because of continuing negative publicity regarding alleged aspects of Allen’s personal life.

This was a reference to a virulent and continuing quarter-of-a-century-old legal battle between two people who used to be lovers, Allen and Mia Farrow. No charges were ever filed. Amazon was fully aware of all accusations, yet it signed Allen anyway.

Amazon is not a charity, and a $68-million multi-picture deal between the company and Allen was scuttled by the studio. Allen sued for redress. “A Rainy Day In New York” was returned to him. A cloud hangs over the movie.

One result of this chaos is Elle Fanning, Timothee Chalamet, and Selena Gomez giving wonderful performances in a sparkling motion picture that is not being seen in the English-speaking world.

You read that correctly: no major or independent theater chain in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia has shown, is currently showing, or has immediate plans to show “A Rainy Day In New York.”

If you look at this situation from a purely financial point-of-view, the 2018 feature is making money. It’s playing, and is a box office hit to the tune of $20-million in ticket sales and rising, in non-English speaking Europe, Asia and South America, where it’s been released.

If you look at this from an artistic point-of-view, for fans who like Woody Allen’s movies, withholding it is a cultural crime.

Obviously, as a movie critic, seeing the controversial and unseeable is like catnip to our feline friends. Happily, I’ve seen “A Rainy Day In New York.”

Fanning is delightful as Ashleigh Enright, a 21-year-old university student who attends an expensive, leafy, quad-style college in the countryside.

She writes for the school newspaper and is given an assignment to go to Manhattan to interview Roland Pollard, a renown and insufferably melancholy and exasperated filmmaker, who is played to perfection by Liev Schreiber. His screenwriting partner is a disconsolate Ted Davidoff, acted by a hangdog Jude Law, miraculously playing against type.

Ashleigh heads for Manhattan with her boyfriend, the slightly anachronistic Gatsby Welles, who has breeding and wealth, as well as a little bit of the fictional Holden Caulfield aura about him. His idea of studying is winning thousands of dollars playing poker. His intellectual reveries reside in past entertainment avenues.

Chalamet, wonderfully channeling director Allen himself, delivers a performance as Gatsby of exquisite comic timing. There’s not a false note in what he does. His character’s journey will lead to a memorable moment at the piano. Emotions are complex.

Although there are enjoyable peripheral characters (the lady with the weird laugh shows what Allen as screenwriter knows about sublime comic moments), the thrust of the fast-paced movie involves a love triangle.

Enter Selena Gomez as Chan Tyrell, the friend of one of Gatsby’s former girlfriends. She’s in Manhattan acting in a student film. Her interest in him is negligible. Or is it? Gomez, who is gloriously relaxed and natural in front of the camera, plays coy to the hilt. Why isn’t she in more movies?

While Ashleigh is interviewing Pollard and discovering the pitfalls of trying to talk to an egocentric director, she’ll also learn about the Upper East Side’s rules of attraction, and why missing a planned rendezvous with one’s boyfriend can be risky. A now-tipsy Ashleigh is magical.

When a riveting Cherry Jones as Gatsby’s mother shows up to seal the deal, “A Rainy Day In New York” has revealed itself to be a winning comedy steeped in youth seeking a personal maturity they’ve only heard or read about.

Alisa Lepselter’s film editing keeps the energy flowing. Santo Loquasto’s production design, Sarah Dennis’s set decoration, Patricia DiCerto’s casting, and the Erroll Garner-flavored soundtrack are part of the allure of this engaging movie.

Vittorio Storaro’s deluxe cinematography is magnificent. It enhances mightily Allen’s adoration of an idealized Manhattan. The rain embraces you.

For those who complain that Woody’s New York City is too idealized, here’s the headline: Movies are not real. They’re fantasies. This one is stylized and beautifully appointed.

I hope you get to see “A Rainy Day In New York.”

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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