Sometimes there’s no dignity in a director's working too far past his prime. If Charlie Chaplin kept on making movies after “A Countess from Hong Kong,” they would likely have come off as creaky and crudely dated as Woody Allen’s last several films., and just as embarrassing as this one, a disaster on so many levels – the directing, the acting, and especially the writing. This script seems to come from someone too isolated, too old, and too short on actual experience to know how we live today. And Allen certainly doesn’t know how we talk. That’s because Allen isn’t really that inventive a writer; he simply recycles the sentimental plots and characters from the films of his youth. He weaves antique twists and plot points into his scripts like those quaint old jazz tunes that decorate his soundtracks. Every single actor with a speaking part humiliates him or herself in this film. They flay around, delivering Allen’s ghastly, over-written lines and degrade themselves as result. When an actor disappears from the story, as many do, it’s a merciful escape. But the damage is already done. We don’t miss them, and we shudder when a few of them return. Those who must reappear, because the hold the plot together, subject themselves to another round of degradation. Timothee Chalamet, the Woody Allen stand-in here, becomes more reprehensible with each reappearance. But poor Elle Fanning, a remarkably game actor, does the best she can in a role designed to mortify her in every scene. How I despised Woody Allen’s mean-spirited treatment of her character! Nothing about the background of this vacuous dimwit, who somehow made it from arid plains of Arizona to a prestigious private college in Upstate New York, makes psychological or even sociological sense. Allen wants us to share in his revulsion towards the character, but he overreaches to such a bullying extent that I was actually pulling for her throughout.
Allen has famously made a few films in Europe, but travel hasn't broadened his sensibilities or made him any more of an artist. His well-publicized confinement to his Manhattan home base has only deepened and made off-putting his New York chauvinism. His script here never wastes an opportunity to say something disparaging about Arizona or any community beyond his own shrinking society. Snobbery can be forgiven, even pleasing, if it’s delivered with conspiratorial wit. But there is no real wit in these anti-rube jabs – just oafish bigotry. And old age seems to have increased Allen’s bitterness towards hyper-Wasp characters, particularly women, maybe because he knows them only as the tony types who appeared to him in the movies of his youth. In my mind, Cherry Jones, playing Chalamet’s ultra-patrician mother, will never recover from that disastrously hokey self-disclosure scene with her son. It is designed to provide the Chalamet character with a bump to his emotional development. But her revelation is the kind of plot twist that only the dullest or most derivative imagination could come up with, the kind that gets a callow student author laughed out of a writer’s workshop.
Allen is at his best in interviews, where he is shockingly honest and accurate about his achievements. By his own admission, whatever ambitions he sought as a filmmaker remained far from fulfilled in even his best reviewed films. Despite this, I’ve enjoyed many of his pictures and revisit them often. But I felt no joy in this one and take no pleasure in acknowledging that this charmless and inept film has convinced me that Woody Allen is a filmmaker in serious decline – too old, too out of touch with life, and perhaps too bitter to produce anything humorous, fresh, or believable.
Chaplin knew what to do when he reached this point. And it saved him from further humiliation and preserved his legacy. But with “Rainy Day in New York,” and a few before it, Allen has gone beneath his nadir. Whatever legacy he earned may be well past preserving.