Review: ‘A Rainy Day in New York,’ starring Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, Diego Luna and Liev Schreiber

November 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Timothée Chalamet and Selena Gomez in “A Rainy Day in New York” (Photo by Jessica Miglio/MPI Media Group)

“A Rainy Day in New York”

Directed by Woody Allen

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in upstate New York, the romantic comedy “A Rainy Day in New York” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the upper-middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A college student and his schoolmate girlfriend spend the day in New York City and experience unexpected entanglements with other people.

Culture Audience: “A Rainy Day in New York” will appeal primarily to die-hard fans of writer/director Woody Allen and star Timothée Chalamet, because this movie is clearly not their best work.

Timothée Chalamet and Elle Fanning in “A Rainy Day in New York” (Photo by Jessica Miglio/MPI Media Group)

“A Rainy Day in New York” is writer/director Woody Allen’s very misguided attempt at making a teenage romantic comedy, but the results are as phony and pretentious as many of the characters in the film. Movie aficionados who are familiar with Allen’s work already know that he sticks to certain formulas and themes in his movies. His movies are usually about privileged people in a big city who are preoccupied with their spouses or lovers cheating on them. There’s usually at least one much-older man in the story who makes sexual advances toward a much-younger woman—or the older man at least makes it known that he’s sexually attracted to her. And there’s always jazz in the soundtrack because Allen is a big fan of jazz music.

And even though Allen’s movies usually take place in the racially diverse city of New York, he excludes African Americans and Asians from being in his films in any significant speaking roles. Occasionally, as he did in “A Rainy Day in New York” and in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” he might have a few Latinos in his films. The elitist and pseudo-intellectual worlds that Allen has in his movies are usually filled with people whining about personal problems that they create for themselves because they are addicted to self-sabotage.

You don’t have to see the poster for “A Rainy Day in New York” to know exactly who’s going to end up together by the end of the story. But until viewers get to that point, they have to sit through about 92 minutes of college-age people in their late teens and early 20s talking as if they’re about 10 years older, with very affected mannerisms. Unfortunately, much of the movie’s screenplay sounds exactly like what it is: dialogue written for young people by a senior citizen who doesn’t know how today’s young people really talk. Even though these young people are supposed to be privileged and well-educated, they still sound like an old person wrote their words for them.

All of the actors in “A Rainy Day in New York” are very talented, but they perform in this movie as if they’re all too self-aware that they’re in one of Allen’s films. And so, they all act is if they’re trying to conjure up the same neuroses and quirks of characters that were in classic Allen films, such as 1977’s “Annie Hall” and 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which are considered two of Allen’s best movies.

“A Rainy Day in New York” follows the usual Allen formula of having the male lead character act like how a young Woody Allen would act, by being neurotic and showing some kind of intellectual snobbery. In this case, Timothée Chalamet plays the Allen surrogate with a character whose name is as pompous as his personality: Gatsby Welles.

Gatsby sees himself as quite the rebel because he dropped out of an unnamed prestigious university (presumably an Ivy League university) and is now enrolled in a small liberal-arts college in upstate New York called Yardley College. He likes to sneak off on a semi-regular basis to gamble with older men of dubious occupations. In reality, Gatsby isn’t that rebellious. He’s spoiled, a bit wimpy, and way too impressed with himself for someone who really hasn’t accomplished much and doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.

Viewers can immediately see how self-absorbed Gatsby can be, but there’s no subtlety at all in this film. Allen over-amplifies Gatsby’s personality because he makes Gatsby have a constant stream of voiceover narration every time Gatsby is on screen. Other characters talk out loud to themselves when they wouldn’t need to do that if Allen trusted the actors enough to express emotions with their faces and body language.

In the opening scene, which takes place on the Yardley campus, Gatsby says in a voiceover: “This is Yardley, which is supposed to be a very good liberal college, which is supposed to be tony enough for my mother, which is total bullshit, because you get ticks [from] walking in the grass.” Gatsby further comments about his mother: “She says I have a high IQ and I’m not living up to my potential, even though last weekend I made 20 grand playing poker.”

Viewers will hear quite a bit about Gatsby’s domineering mother, because Gatsby can’t stop talking about her, even as he tries to avoid her. Gatsby’s parents (played by Cherry Jones and Jonathan Hogan) don’t have names in the movie, but viewers soon learn that Gatsby’s parents and his older brother Hunter (played by Will Rogers) live in New York City. Gatsby’s mother is a high-society influencer who’s presenting her big annual charity gala that Gatsby desperately does not want to attend.

There’s a scene in the last third of “A Rainy Day in New York” where Gatsby and his mother have a heart-to-heart talk, and it’s the best scene in the movie. Jones is fantastic in this role. Her performance is one of the few highlights of this meandering and often-dull film that recycles a lot of the same love-life problems and dilemmas that have been in other films by Allen.

Gatsby has a girlfriend named Ashleigh Enright (played by Elle Fanning), who also attends Yardley. On paper, Gatsby and Ashleigh both seem like a great match for each other. They both come from well-to-do families (Ashleigh’s father owns several banks in Arizona) that are politically conservative and white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Gatsby and Ashleigh are both very intelligent and curious. However, Ashleigh tends to be very giggly, forthright and effervescent, which is in contrast to Gatsby’s more brooding, secretive and angst-filled personality. Ashleigh is a movie buff, while Gatsby is more of a literature enthusiast.

Gatsby and Ashleigh have been dating each other for a few months. He says in a voiceover that he’s in love with Ashleigh and she’s perfect for him. Gatsby also says that Ashleigh is the type of girlfriend his mother would approve of, which is why he plans to introduce Ashleigh to his mother for the first time at the big gala event.

It just so happens that Ashleigh, who’s a journalist for the Yardley student newspaper, has landed an interview with a famous New York City-based film director named Roland Pollard (played by Liev Schreiber), and she couldn’t be more ecstatic about it because she’s been a longtime fan of his. Ashleigh tells Gatsby that she’s going to New York City to interview Roland, so Gatsby decides the time is right to go to the city for a couple of days with Ashleigh and make a romantic trip out of it.

Gatsby takes charge of their trip. He tells Ashleigh that they’ll be staying at the Pierre Hotel, and he’s made plans for them to have dinner at Daniel, an exclusive, five-star French restaurant. It’s implied that Gatsby is so well-connected that he can easily get reservations at Daniel, which is a restaurant that’s known to take reservations weeks in advance. Gatsby also wants to possibly stay at the Carlyle Hotel, or at least have lunch there, during the trip. 

Ashleigh’s meeting with Roland isn’t really an interview as much as it is a talk session where she nervously gushes over him like a fangirl. Based on how Roland’s movies are described, he’s an “auteur” who prefers to direct creatively challenging films instead of crowd-pleasing blockbusters. Roland is flattered that this young reporter knows a lot of about his work, but he’s wracked with insecurities about his latest film. He also mentions to Ashleigh that his ex-wife’s name was Ashley and she also went to Yardley.

Because Ashleigh is so nervous around Roland, she starts babbling some “too much information” personal details to him. For example, she tells him that she starts to hiccup when she’s anxious. “When I’m sexually anxious, I’ll hiccup indefinitely,” she adds. And, of course, that’s a signal that this nervous tick will definitely happen later in the film.

Ashleigh is such a neophyte journalist that when Roland tells her that he’d like to give her a scoop, she naïvely asks, “A scoop of what?” When Roland explains that a “scoop” is a journalist term for exclusive information, she can’t believe her luck that he chose her. Roland says that the “scoop” he wants to give Ashleigh is that he’s not happy with the film he’s working on, and it might be the last film he directs because he’s thinking of quitting the movie business.

Ashleigh is shocked and tells Roland that he shouldn’t quit. Roland invites Ashleigh to go with him to a private screening room to watch a rough cut of the film and to tell him what she thinks of the movie. The only problem for Ashleigh is that the time it would take to watch the movie would conflict with the lunch date that she made with Gatsby.

The offer from Roland is too good to pass up, so Ashleigh apologetically cancels her lunch date with Gatsby and explains why. Gatsby is disappointed, but he understands why Ashleigh wants this opportunity to get a great interview with one of her idols. And so, Gatsby and Ashleigh make plans to meet up later.

Gatsby now has unexpectedly a few spare hours of time where he’s free to do what he wants. He wanders outside the hotel and happens to see a former classmate from high school: a gossipy jerk named Alvin Troller (played by Ben Warheit), who is an elitist snob yet he has no manners. Gatsby isn’t too enthusiastic about seeing Alvin, but they make some small talk where they give updates on what they’ve been doing with their lives and why Gatsby is visiting in the city. Alvin tactlessly insults Gatsby and some other mutual acquaintances who are mentioned in the conversation.

Alvin tells Gatsby that a mutual former classmate from high school is directing a student film outside on a nearby street and that Gatsby should check out what’s going on with this movie if he’s curious. Before they part ways, Alvin tells Gatsby that if he were Gatsby, he’d be nervous about having his girlfriend alone in a room with a powerful movie director. It plants a seed of doubt in Gatsby about what might happen during the interview with Ashleigh and Roland.

When Gatsby arrives on the film set, the former classmate, whose name is Josh (played by Griffin Newman), is happy to see him. Josh convinces a reluctant Gatsby to make a cameo in the movie. Gatsby doesn’t feel comfortable about being in the movie because he tells Josh that he’s not an actor, but Gatsby agrees to the role only because it won’t take long and he won’t have to say any lines. All Gatsby has to do in the scene is kiss a young woman in a car.

And who is this young woman? Her name is Chan (played by Selena Gomez), and she happens to be the younger sister of Gatsby’s ex-girlfriend named Amy, whom Gatsby briefly dated when he was 16. Chan, who is a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, is dryly sarcastic and comes from the same well-to-do type of family that Gatsby has. Before Gatsby and Chan start filming their kissing scene, Gatsby and Chan exchange the kind of teasing banter that makes it obvious that they’re thinking, “I’m attracted to you but I’m not going to admit it.” And you know what that means for a romantic comedy like this one.

Gatsby and Chan’s kissing in the scene starts off being very awkward. But then, eventually Gatsby and Chan become more relaxed with each other before the director tells them that he has the footage that he wants. Gatsby and Chan go their separate ways. But what do you know, they happen to see each other again when it starts raining and they both end up hailing the same taxi for their second “meet cute” moment. Gatsby and Chan decide to share the taxi ride, and then they have more banter filled with sexual tension.

During their conversations, Gatsby tells Chan that he’s in New York City with his girlfriend Ashleigh because Ashleigh is interviewing Roland Pollard for the Yardley student newspaper. Gatsby somewhat brags about Ashleigh coming from a wealthy family, but Chan shows some East Coast snobbery when she hears that Ashleigh and her family are originally from Arizona. Chan then proceeds to mock Ashleigh, whom she hasn’t even met, with jokes that imply that Chan thinks Ashleigh is an unsophisticated hick, even if Ashleigh’s family is rich.

It should come as no surprise that for the rest of the day, Chan and Gatsby find themselves spending time together, while Ashleigh gets more caught up in hanging out with Roland and his associates. Various hijinks ensue as Gatsby and Ashleigh make plans to meet up multiple times, only to have those plans changed because of a variety of circumstances. It’s all very predictable and formulaic because people who’ve seen enough romantic comedies know exactly what’s going to happen at the end of this movie.

At the screening room to watch the rough cut of Roland’s latest movie, Ashleigh meets Ted Davidoff (played by Jude Law), the screenwriter of the movie. Roland gets so distraught by what he sees in the rough cut that he storms off. Ted and Ashleigh take off in Ted’s car to try and find Roland. During this hunt for Roland, Ted sees his wife Connie (played by Rebecca Hall), who appears to be on a date with Ted’s best friend Larry Lipshitz. Connie told Ted that she was going to be hanging out with one of her female friends, and now Connie has been caught in a lie.

And so, Ashleigh finds herself tagging along and observing some of this marital drama, as Ted tries to find out if Connie is cheating on him or not. And speaking of infidelity, Ashleigh gets caught up in a situation where she has to decide if she’s going to be faithful to Gatsby or not. During the search for Roland, Ashleigh goes to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, where she meets and is immediately dazzled by a sex-symbol movie star named Francisco Vega (played by Diego Luna), who’s almost twice the age of Ashleigh.

Francisco, who is in Roland’s latest film, doesn’t waste time in asking Ashleigh out on a dinner date. Francisco says he’s recently broken up with his actress girlfriend Tiffany (played by Suki Waterhouse), and when he and Ashleigh go outside together, they’re surrounded by paparazzi and news cameras. You don’t have to be psychic to know who will eventually see this footage.

During the time that Gatsby and Ashleigh are apart, there’s a minor subplot of Gatsby visiting his older brother Hunter and Hunter’s fiancée Lily (played by Annaleigh Ashford) in their spacious home. The wedding invitations have already been sent out, but Hunter confides in Gatsby that he doesn’t want to marry Lily. Why? Because Hunter says he doesn’t like Lily’s laugh, which Hunter describes as “a cross between Dad’s sister Betty and Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men.'” 

It’s yet one of numerous examples of how superficial, status-conscious and image-obsessed so many people are in this story. And it’s why this so-called romantic comedy isn’t very romantic when almost everyone in the story does not seem capable of loving anyone but themselves. Anyone who doesn’t meet their standard of wealth just isn’t worthy enough of their time.

Chalamet and Fanning do their best to bring some relatable humanity to their roles. But Gatsby is just too conceited and Ashleigh is just too fickle to go beyond the “spoiled rich kid” caricatures that writer/director Allen has constructed for them. Gomez doesn’t have much to do with the character of Chan, whose personality is just an empty shell that only exists to lobby semi-insults back and forth with Gatsby as they pretend they’re not attracted to each other. A good romantic comedy will have audiences rooting for the protagonists, but most of the characters in “A Rainy Day in New York” are so insufferable that audiences will wish these people would just shut up and go away.

MPI Media Group and Signature Entertainment released “A Rainy Day in New York” in select U.S. cinemas on October 9, 2020. The movie’s digital, Blu-ray and DVD release date is November 10, 2020. “A Rainy Day in New York” was released in several countries outside the U.S. in 2019.

Review: ‘Bad Education,’ starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney

April 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in “Bad Education” (Photo by JoJo Whilden/HBO)

“Bad Education” (2020)

Directed by Cory Finley

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily on Long Island, New York, and partially in Las Vegas, the drama “Bad Education” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Indian Americans) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Based on true events, the movie tells the story of corrupt administrators and their accomplices, who embezzled an estimated $11 million from the school district of Roslyn High School in Roslyn, New York.

Culture Audience: “Bad Education” will appeal primarily to Hugh Jackman fans and people who like dramas based on true crime.

Hugh Jackman and Geraldine Viswanathan in “Bad Education” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Bad Education” follows many familiar tonal beats of true-crime movies, but the riveting performances of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney elevate what could have been a somewhat mediocre film. Based on true events that happened in 2002, “Bad Education” portrays the investigation that led to the downfalls of several people involved in an embezzlement/fraud scam that stole an estimated $11 million over several years from the high-school district in the upscale suburban city of Roslyn, New York. It’s said to be the largest prosecuted embezzlement in the history of American public schools.

The two people at the center of the crimes against Roslyn High School are school superintendent Frank Tassone (played by Jackman) and assistant superintendent/business manager Pam Glucklin (played by Janney), who work closely together and also cover up for each other. As it’s eventually revealed in the movie, they cared about more than just increasing the prestige level of Roslyn High School, the high-ranking  jewel in their school-administration crown. They also cared a great deal about increasing their personal wealth using illegally obtained school funds, mostly by billing the district for lavish trips, homes, cars and other personal expenses.

In the beginning of the film, which is effectively bookmarked with a similar scene at the end of the film, Frank is introduced like a rock star at a school assembly, which has gathered to celebrate Roslyn High School’s achievement of ranking at No. 4 in the U.S. for being the highest academically achieving high school. The school has reached this level under Frank’s leadership, and his goal is to elevate Roslyn High School to No. 1.

Frank’s friendly charm and winning smile have made him very popular with his co-workers, parents and students. By contrast, Pam has a prickly and dismissive personality, but her strong alliance with Frank has given her a lot of clout in the school district. Their boss is school board president Bob Spicer (played by Ray Romano), who is Frank’s biggest champion.

One of the school’s goals is a skywalk proposal, which would build a multimillion-dollar skywalk bridge to link the school from end to end. A bright and inquisitive student named Rachel Bhargava (played by Geraldine Viswanathan) is tasked with doing an article about the skywalk for Roslyn High School’s newspaper, The Beacon. At first, when she does a very brief interview with Frank for the article, she thinks it’s going to be a boring puff piece.

Rachel thinks so little of the assignment that she even tells Frank that it will be a puff piece. His response: “It’s only a puff piece if you let it be a puff piece. A real journalist can turn an assignment into a story.” It’s unknown if the real Frank Tassone ever said those words to any of the real student reporters of The Beacon who broke the news of the embezzlement scandal, but those words will come back to haunt Frank in this movie.

While preparing the article, Rachel needs to get some facts and statistics about the skywalk construction proposal bids that the school district received from contractors. She has to get permission from Pam to access those documents, which are in a very cluttered storage area of the school. While Frank was accommodating and gracious in giving his time to Rachel, Pam is impatient and condescending when talking to Rachel for the article. Pam gives Rachel the room key to access the requested documents, but warns her that the area is so messy and disorganized that it will be challenging for her to find the paperwork that she’s seeking.

The storage area turns out to have a treasure trove of documents that Rachel’s assigning editor Nick Fleischman (played by Alex Wolff) happens to notice when he accidentally knocks some of the papers out of her backpack when he impatiently tries to stop her while walking down a school hallway. (It’s one of those moments in the movie that probably didn’t happen in real life, but was fabricated for dramatic purposes.)

Nick thinks she may be on to a big story, so Rachel finds out through further investigation that the documents have a lot of proof that invoices charging a fortune have been billed to the school district, but many of the companies listed on the invoices don’t exist. Rachel gets help from her father David Bhargava (played by Hari Dhillon) in doing the grunt work of making calls to investigate the legitimacy of companies that are listed on the school invoices.

Why does Rachel’s father have that much free time on his hands? In a minor subplot, it’s revealed that he lost his job because of accusations that he was involved with insider trading. In the midst of investigating corruption at her own school, Rachel at one point asks her father if he really was guilty of insider trading. His answer serves to telegraph Rachel’s decision to report what she’s found out.

What happens next has a domino effect that exposes elaborate, longtime schemes orchestrated by Frank and Pam. Because of this high-profile case, many viewers might already know about the outcome. However, screenwriter Mike Makowsky (a Roslyn native who graduated from high school seven years after the scandal) and director Cory Finley infuse the movie with enough suspense and sly comedy to make it a slightly better-than-average telling of a crime story.

“Bad Education” takes a sometimes sardonic look at how manipulative and cunning Frank was in covering up his crimes. He was a man of many faces—literally, since his vanity facelifts and meticulous application of makeup are shown in the movie—and many secrets, which he covered up with a web of lies that eventually unraveled. Even in his personal life (Frank was a closeted gay man), he deceived the people who were closest to him. The movie is also a takedown of the weak-willed enablers who knew about the corruption, but were complicit in covering it up because they didn’t want to lose their jobs and they wanted to keep up the appearance that they had an ideal school district.

Frank also mastered the art of deflection, so that when he was under scrutiny, he was able to turn it around on potential accusers to make them afraid of getting in trouble for not detecting the problem earlier. He also used, to his advantage, the administration’s fixation on increasing the prestige of Roslyn High School, which tied into many administrators’ ulterior motives of raising the property values in Roslyn too.

Janney doesn’t have as much screen time as Jackman does, but she makes the most of characterizing Pam as being more than just a selfish and greedy shrew. The movie shows how she was generous to a fault in sharing her illegally funded wealth with her family. That generosity would turn out to be her downfall, since she allowed certain family members to use school credit cards to fund their lavish personal spending. The family members who were also part of the widespread scam included Pam’s husband Howard Gluckin (played by Ray Abruzzo); Jim Boy McCarden (played by Jimmy Tatro), her son from a previous marriage; and her co-worker niece Jenny Aquila (played by Annaleigh Ashford), who relies on Pam for financial help.

All of these family members are dimwitted in some way—they didn’t do much to hide their identities in the paper trail that exposed their crimes—but Jenny is portrayed as particularly loathsome. At one point in the movie, even after some of the crimes were exposed, Jenny tries to take over her aunt/benefactor Pam’s job at the school. Jenny also makes a pathetic and botched attempt to blackmail Frank, who quickly puts Jenny in her place and reminds her that she’s no match for him and his devious manipulations.

When Pam’s world starts to unravel, Janney uses subtle cues in showing how this character’s carefully constructed façade starts to crumble, as her perfectly posh, enunicated English starts to give way to a very working-class Long Island accent. Pam is so obsessed with keeping up appearances that she makes the mistake of being too loyal to Frank when things start to crash down on them.

“Bad Education” is a very Hollywood version of a seedy true crime story. In real life, none of the people were as glamorous-looking as the actors who portray them in the movie—although, in real life, the embezzlers spent money as if they were Hollywood celebrities. The movie accurately shows that people got away with crimes of this length and magnitude because they were able to fool others by having a “respectable” image. The ending scene effectively illustrates that Frank’s inflated ego and arrogance led him to believe that he was a legend in his own mind—and the results were reckless crimes that destroyed school finances, careers and people’s trust.

HBO premiered “Bad Education” on April 25, 2020.