Woody Allen’s strange new movie A Rainy Day in New York, explained – Vox.com

The world has changed a lot since A Rainy Day in New York was shot.
by Alissa Wilkinson
I’m not going to review A Rainy Day in New York, the new(ish) movie from Woody Allen, because what would be the use? If you’ve seen a Woody Allen movie, then you’ve seen this one. As with many of his recent films, it retreads old territory for the prolific director so closely that it plays like self-parody. There’s no need to watch it unless you’re a Woody Allen completist (or you want to see Timothée Chalamet do what seems to be a weird impression of a young, neurotic Woody Allen). And if you feel weird about supporting his work financially now, you’re not alone.
But lousy screenplay and mystifyingly bad directing aside, the film’s release is still significant. Yes, like most films that managed to debut in 2020, A Rainy Day in New York feels like it’s the product of a dimly remembered earlier era, in which people drank martinis in bars and kissed in parks and rode on Greyhound buses for hours with naked faces. But a look at its production timeline and distribution troubles tell a far more revealing story about what’s changed in the last three years. A Rainy Day in New York is a pretty bad movie, but it’s an important one — even if only as a marker of the end of an era.
Hop into your mind’s time machine and ride all the way back to September 11, 2017. Donald Trump has been president for not quite eight months. Barely a week ago, Facebook informed Congress that it seems someone connected to a Russian company spent $100,000 on ads targeting US voters during the 2016 election. Two days ago, Louis C.K.’s movie I Love You, Daddy — explicitly an homage to and dig at Woody Allen’s 1979 masterpiece Manhattanpremiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and a distributor bought it for $5 million.
Meanwhile, on this mid-September day, Allen has begun shooting his 52nd feature film, a comedy about two college students (played by Chalamet and Elle Fanning) spending 48 hours in New York City, where they are greeted by a series of mishaps and personal revelations. Other stars include Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Liev Schreiber, Diego Luna, Rebecca Hall, and Cherry Jones. It’s a movie about how some people are guileless, and others are pretentious; some older men love younger women; and some people just need the energy of New York in order to feel alive.
At that point, Amazon Studios is set to distribute the film as part of its four-picture deal with Allen. The ink is barely dry on that deal, struck in August and spearheaded by Amazon Studios head Roy Price. The company has agreed to pay a minimum of $68 million for them. Separate from the deal, they’re also distributing Allen’s new film, Wonder Wheel, which has nabbed the closing night berth for next month’s New York Film Festival.
Nobody involved knows that by the time they wrap the Rainy Day in New York shoot, their world will be changed.
On October 5, 2017, a story breaks in the New York Times regarding the long-running conduct of sexual predator and movie producer Harvey Weinstein. (Weinstein’s companies had distributed a few of Allen’s movies but hadn’t produced any of them — mostly, Allen claims in interviews, because of Weinstein’s legendary penchant for recutting films against the directors’ wishes.) In the following days, Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey continue to break stories on Weinstein, as does Ronan Farrow at the New Yorker; the trio will share a 2018 Pulitzer for their work.
Farrow is Allen’s estranged son, the only biological child of Allen and his longtime former partner Mia Farrow. Ronan became estranged from his father years earlier because he staunchly defended his sister Dylan, who, as a 7-year-old child in 1992, accused Allen of molesting her. The allegation came shortly after their parents’ relationship ended, kicking off an acrimonious media circus of a custody battle that lasted for years. (Dylan was adopted as an infant by Farrow and Allen.) As adults, both Ronan and Dylan continued to challenge the Hollywood glitterati’s continued support of and involvement with Allen, publishing opinion articles when their father was receiving red-carpet Cannes premieres for his work or lifetime achievement awards.
The molestation charge is what drove the custody battle, but the catalyst for Allen and Mia Farrow’s breakup was the revelation of Allen’s sexual relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Farrow’s adopted daughter with her first husband. Previn was around 21 years old at the time; Allen was in his 50s. Farrow discovered the relationship when she found a stack of nude photos of her daughter in Allen’s apartment (Farrow and Allen were together for a decade but never lived together). Previn and Allen would eventually marry, and they remain married to this day.
By 2017, chatter about Dylan Farrow’s allegations against Allen was mostly quiet, and had been since the mid-1990s. Allen had gone on to make many more films, receiving honors and awards. But that was about to change.
In the weeks and months following the Weinstein story, and partly due to Ronan Farrow’s dogged reporting, the Weinstein story lights a fire underneath a movement that becomes known by the hashtag MeToo. Many powerful men in the film industry and far beyond are confronted by allegations of sexual misconduct, often from women who had been afraid to speak up before.
One of those men is Roy Price, who resigns from Amazon Studios on October 17, three days after the Wonder Wheel premiere at the NYFF. He’s been accused of harassing a female producer and ignoring another woman’s allegations of being assaulted by Weinstein.
On October 15, a day after the premiere, Allen gives an interview to the BBC in which he denies any knowledge of Weinstein’s misconduct. “No one ever came to me or told me horror stories with any real seriousness,” he says. “And they wouldn’t, because you are not interested in it. You are interested in making your movie.” He says the whole situation is sad for everyone involved: “Tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up.”
He also suggests that the cultural earthquake underway could lead to “a witch hunt atmosphere,” in which “every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.” The uproar over this statement, which seems to downplay the seriousness of the allegations coming to light, leads him to release a statement later in the day to Variety, asserting that Weinstein is a “sad, sick man” and that he’s shocked his statement was taken as anything other than an assertion of that opinion.
That same weekend, actor Griffin Newman, who had shot one scene on A Rainy Day in New York, announces via Twitter that he regrets working with the director in the light of past allegations and that he’s donating his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (In January, his co-stars Chalamet and Hall join him and donate their own salaries, and other actors will express their regrets for working with Allen on other films. In the meantime, Kate Winslet defends him on the publicity trail for Wonder Wheel, as do others, including Rainy Day stars Selena Gomez and Cherry Jones.)
All this happens a week and a half before the Rainy Day in New York set wraps on October 23. By November 9, the premiere and the release of I Love You, Daddy, Louis C.K.’s homage to Allen, will also be canceled after revelations that Louis C.K. sexually harassed women on the comedy circuit.
It’s a different world. Rumors and “best-kept secrets” are coming to light, and things that were only whispered and joked about in secret are suddenly seeming more plausible. Everything is topsy-turvy.
In December, Dylan Farrow writes an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, asking why the film world that expelled Weinstein and had begun exhorting people to “believe women” was still defending her father, despite her long-running allegations of molestation, which he’d steadfastly denied for decades. She blames the “deliberately created fog” by Allen’s publicity team around his story for why “A-list actors agree to appear in Allen’s films and journalists tend to avoid the subject”; she calls out Winslet, Blake Lively, and Greta Gerwig, all of whom had also starred in recent Allen films. (Gerwig’s 2017 film Lady Bird was beginning its triumphant awards-season tour.)
By January 2018, Gerwig too is publicly rethinking her position on Allen and apologizing to Farrow. She won’t be the last to do so.
By early 2018, none of the disavowals or op-eds had canceled or toppled Woody Allen (nor would they in the years to come). But they seemed to do what all of the court cases and media appearances in the world couldn’t have done in the past: They turned Allen into someone you’d think twice before working with because it could harm your reputation.
And even though Allen keeps working, the distribution plan for his movies is affected.
In February 2019, Allen files a $68 million breach of contract lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the company tried to back out of their contract with him in June 2018 and had unlawfully dropped A Rainy Day in New York from its release schedule. “Amazon has tried to excuse its action by referencing a 25-year-old baseless allegation against Mr. Allen, but that allegation was already well-known to Amazon (and the public) before Amazon entered into four separate deals with Mr. Allen—and in any event, it does not provide a basis for Amazon to terminate the contract,” the suit reads.
The company hadn’t actually dissolved its contract with Allen at the time. But A Rainy Day in New York, which finished filming in the summer of 2018 and was set to premiere later that year, curiously disappeared from the release calendar.
The suit fills in the (alleged) backstory. In December 2017, two Amazon executives met with Allen and representatives from his production company to discuss “the negative publicity and reputational harm that Amazon Studios had received because of allegations made against its former President, [Roy] Price, and its association with Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company.” (It’s easy to imagine, given the suit’s allegations, that the older accusations against Allen were suddenly seen in a new light as well.) Amazon’s executives then proposed they meet in Seattle to discuss marketing A Rainy Day in New York, but the meeting never happened.
According to the suit, the company then requested that the film’s release date be pushed into 2019. Then, in June 2018, Amazon tried to back out of its contract with Allen altogether, saying that their agreement was “impracticable” and “supervening events, including renewed allegations against Mr. Allen, his own controversial comments, and the increasing refusal of top talent to work with or be associated with him in any way, all of which have frustrated the purpose of the Agreement.”
The release of A Rainy Day in New York stayed in limbo, and from the outside, all that was obvious was that the film had been delayed. It was easy to imagine why. (That also made 2018 the first year without a new Woody Allen film since 1981.)
In his February 2019 lawsuit, Allen seeks the minimum payments for the four films, as well as damages and legal fees. In May, Amazon agrees to give distribution rights back to Allen. And in November, the parties settle the lawsuit and filed a notice to dismiss the case. The two entities part ways.
So what happened to A Rainy Day in New York, now finished and shelved, when it ended up without a distributor or a release date?
The movie sat around for a while, but once the distribution rights reverted to Allen, things started moving again. On July 26, 2019, it was released in Poland. It then opened across Europe, South and Latin America, and parts of Asia throughout the rest of 2019. That September, it was selected as the opening night premiere at the Deauville American Film in France. In May 2020, with theaters in parts of Asia opening following pandemic closings, the film went back onto South Korean screens and made $330,000 — which means it was the highest-grossing film in the world the weekend of May 8-10, 2020. And on June 5, 2020, it opened in the UK.
Now the film is slated to open in the US on October 9, released by MPI Media Group and Signature Entertainment. It’s opening seven months into a world-altering pandemic and into a country where many theaters remain closed. That includes New York itself, the city where during the Before Times — in several senses — the film would have received a star-studded red-carpet gala premiere, no matter the critics’ reviews. A Rainy Day in New York will instead open quietly in a handful of theaters before most likely finding its way to iTunes or some other digital platform in a matter of weeks or months.
But while Allen keeps working — his latest film, Rifkin’s Festival, mostly starring European actors, premiered at the San Sebastian Film Festival on September 18 and has already opened in theaters in Spain — it’s clear something has changed. This past March, Allen was back in the news when his memoir, Apropos of Nothing, was first announced by Hachette Grand Central, a major publisher; following a walkout by staffers in solidarity with Dylan Farrow, Hachette dropped the book, and a smaller publisher, Skyhorse, released it without a marketing lead-up on March 23.
In the book, Allen once again denies his daughter’s accusations as well as the larger claim that he has consistently displayed a marked interest in very young women. (This is frequently a feature of his movies, and one that Louis C.K. accurately integrated into I Love You, Daddy. A Rainy Day in New York’s iteration features two significantly older men, a director and a screenwriter played by Schreiber and Law, “falling in love” with 21-year-old college journalist Elle Fanning — Schreiber’s character seemingly decides this after she tells him that she gets the hiccups whenever she is “sexually confused.” This all happens within hours of meeting her, and they both tell her how they feel, in so many words. Whether or not they’re meant to be seen as objects of mockery is not very clear.)
Allen’s memoir, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not well reviewed.
Watching A Rainy Day in New York feels like watching a student filmmaker’s slavish but amateurish attempt to pay homage to Allen; it doesn’t evoke Allen’s best work as much as recall that it’s been quite a while since he did something truly fresh, something worth talking about in its own right.
And to me, all scandal aside, that’s just sad. Just over three years ago, it was impossible to imagine a world in which a Woody Allen movie — any Woody Allen movie — wouldn’t have at least been a moderately buzzed-about event. But now, he’s not canceled; he just doesn’t seem all that relevant anymore, or interested in saying anything to the world beyond rehashing his old material. We will never definitively know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether all, parts, or none of the Woody Allen story is true. That’s a metaphysical impossibility. But judging from his movies and his work, he seems determined to dwell in a past of his own invention — and the world is moving on.
A Rainy Day in New York opens in select theaters on October 9.
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