Review: ‘The Nest’ (2020), starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon

November 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Carrie Coon and Jude Law (center) in “The Nest” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nest” (2020)

Directed by Sean Durkin

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1986 in the United Kingdom and briefly in New York state, the dramatic film “The Nest” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with a few Indians) representing the middle-class, working-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British businessman and his American wife experience upheavals in their marriage when they move from New York to England so that he can pursue his dream of starting his own consulting firm for commodities brokering.

Culture Audience: “The Nest” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted arthouse dramas that explore issues about marital relationships, social classes and how wealth is perceived as a status symbol.

Carrie Coon and Jude Law in “The Nest” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

On the surface, “The Nest” is a drama about an upwardly mobile married couple whose lives are frequently upended by the businessman husband’s restlessness to relocate when he finds new opportunities to make more money. Underneath the surface—and what becomes more apparent as the glossy sheen of their seemingly idyllic existence starts to wear off—”The Nest” is really about a power struggle within this marriage. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, “The Nest” features stellar performances from Jude Law and Carrie Coon as the couple at the center of this simmering turmoil and how these two spouses are forced to reckon with some messy and uncomfortable truths.

At the beginning of “The Nest,” which takes place in 1986, married couple Rory O’Hara (played by Law) and Allison O’Hara (played by Coon) seem to have a “perfect” life in New York state. Rory, who’s originally from England, works for a commodities brokerage firm. Allison, who’s a New York native, works for a place that does horse training. They both seem to be happily married and they live in a comfortably upper-middle-class suburban home with their two children: 10-year-old son Benjamin, nicknamed Ben (played by Charlie Shotwell) and daughter Samantha, nicknamed Sam (played by Oona Roche), who is about 16 or 17 years old.

Sam is Allison’s daughter from a previous relationship, so Rory is Sam’s stepfather. Sam calls Rory by his first name, instead of calling him her father. Sam’s biological father is not seen or mentioned in this story. Ben and Sam were both born in the United States and have never lived in another country before.

There are signs that perhaps because Sam is not Rory’s biological child, Rory doesn’t feel as close to Sam as he does to Ben. Rory is a very attentive father to Ben and will spend time doing things like playing soccer with Ben and his friends. That doesn’t mean that Sam is close to her mother either. Unlike the very obedient Ben, Sam is showing signs of teenage rebellion that will come out in a big way later in the story.

Rory is a very doting and loving husband and father overall, but there are some obvious indications that Rory wants to be a very dominant patriarch in this family. One day, Rory tells Allison that he thinks they should move back to his native England because he’s found an opportunity to make more money. Rory’s former boss/mentor Arthur Davis, who owns his own London-based commodities firm named Davis Trading, has offered Rory an opportunity to start his own consulting firm, with Arthur as the primary investor.

But first, Arthur wants Rory to come back to working for Davis Trading so that Arthur (who is nearing retirement age) can be reassured that he will be making the right investment when Rory is ready to strike out on his own. Allison is very reluctant to move because the family has relocated four times in past 10 years, and where they are currently living in New York state is close to where Allison’s parents live. However, Rory tells Allison: “Things have dried up here … This is a chance to make some real money again.”

Throughout the movie, viewers will see a pattern to Rory’s overly confident sales skills: He manipulates people into thinking that they’re less-than-smart if they don’t go along with his ideas. He plays into people’s “fear of missing out” on a great opportunity, even if deep down he isn’t sure himself if what he’s selling is worthwhile. Rory likes to take risks, which can be an asset in his line of work. But he doesn’t always investigate all the pros and cons of taking that risk. And that short-sightedness can be a detriment to his line of work.

Allison eventually agrees to Rory’s plan because he makes her think that she’s not “visionary” enough if she can’t see that he should seize this opportunity that he wants to give their family more wealth. He also sells her on the idea to move because he tells her that he will be making enough money for her to eventually have her own horse-training business. The children have no choice but to accept their parents’ decision to move to England. They’re not thrilled about it but they’re not upset to the point where anyone is throwing tantrums or having crying fits.

Before they move to England, there’s a very telling scene where Allison spends time at her parents’ home. Allison and her mother (played by Wendy Crewson) have a prickly relationship where they don’t really get along with each other, but they still love each other. Allison is almost sad to be leaving behind her parents to move to England, but she doesn’t really want to admit it too much.

Allison confides in her mother (who doesn’t have a name in the movie) about how she feels about this sudden move to England: “Something doesn’t feel right, Mom.” Allison’s mother replies, “It’s not your job to worry. You leave that to your husband.” Allison responds, “It scares me that you actually think that … I’m not the difficult one here.”

Although the “husband always knows best” mentality is not one that Allison is willing to always believe in theory, it becomes clear that in reality, her marriage has become a manifestation of that belief, whether she likes it or not. Rory has always been the one to decide their financial destiny and when and where they are going to move. He’s the type of husband who insists that he will take care of paying the bills and the wife doesn’t need to know all the details.

In essence, Allison has given Rory a lot of power and trust in their financial future. But this move to England will open her eyes in more ways than one. At first, the move to England goes smoothly. The children seem to quickly get over their fear and sadness about leaving their previous life behind and starting over in a new country when they see the stately (yet slightly shabby) centuries-old mansion that Rory has rented for the family. Rory signed a one-year lease with the option to own.

The mansion is in Surrey, about 30 miles from London: close enough to commute but far enough from the crime and noise of a big city. Allison thinks the mansion is too big for their family, but Rory reassures her that they can afford it. It’s another sign that Allison lets Rory make big decisions without her, since it’s obvious that he signed the lease on the home without even discussing it with Allison first.

The mansion needs some remodeling, but Rory assures Allison that they can afford whatever needs to be done. And best of all for Allison, the mansion has a farm that’s large enough for her beloved horse Richmond. Rory has thoughtfully paid to have the horse shipped from the United States to the family’s new home in England. Rory has also enrolled the children in the best private schools he could find in the area, and he doesn’t make them forget it.

At work, Arthur (played by Michael Culkin) treats Rory like a wayward son who has come back to the fold. Rory and Arthur have some discussions about how working in America has changed Rory to think of bigger and better possibilities. Since Rory achieved the American Dream when he lived in the United States, he tells Arthur that what he learned from that experience can only be an asset to Davis Trading, which Rory believes might be stuck in an old and stodgy British way of thinking.

Rory is eager to impress everyone around him by giving off airs of being a wealthy and successful businessman. Rory has a tendency to boast about his accomplishments and how wealthy he supposedly is. Rory tells Arthur and some business colleagues that he and Allison are keeping a penthouse in New York, and they might get a pied-à-terre in London’s Mayfair district, in addition to the mansion they have in Surrey. Rory also tends to name-drop a lot and very much wants to be considered one of England’s elite businessman.

There are signs that Allison isn’t completely comfortable with the snooty social circles that Rory wants to be a part of, now that he’s working with Arthur again. At a formal dinner party at a grand estate, Arthur’s social wife Patricia (played by Annabel Leventon) introduces Rory and Allison as “Mr. and Mrs. Rory O’Hara.” Allison makes a point of telling her that she would like to be introduced as Allison, not as “Mrs. Rory O’Hara.” Later, when Rory and Allison are at their home, Allison tells Roy that things were much easier in America because they could be more relaxed in social settings, compared to their new lifestyle in Great Britain.

Rory didn’t come back to work for Davis Trading to do boring, small-time deals. He tells Arthur that he’s found a Chicago-based firm that wants to merge with a London-based firm. Rory insists that this firm is a great match for Davis Trading and that it’s time for Arthur to sell the company. It would mean that most of Davis Trading employees will be laid off when the American firm takes over, but Rory doesn’t care because he’s already figured out that his commission for brokering this deal will make him very rich.

Arthur agrees to look over the details of this deal. And later, he tells Rory that he’ll probably do the merger as Rory suggested. Plans are set in motion, and Rory is eager to celebrate. He tells a reliable co-worker named Steve (played by Adeel Akhtar), who is his closest confidant at the firm, about this great news.

But at home, things aren’t so great. The cracks in Rory’s façade begin to show when Allison finds out that the contract workers hired to do remodeling on the family’s new home are refusing to do any more work unless they are paid for the work that they already did. Through a phone conversation with the workers’ supervisor, Allison discovers that Rory paid by a check that bounced, and Rory didn’t follow through on his promise to make things right by paying the workers with a legitimate check. Allison gets even more of a shock when she contacts the bank and finds out that she and Rory only have £600 in their joint account.

When Allison confronts Rory, she’s understandably furious. He reassures her that their financial problems will go away because he’s expecting a huge payday. He doesn’t tell her the details, but he insists that she shouldn’t worry. For a while, Allison is part of this denial state of mind too. Her children hear Allison and Rory arguing, but Allison keeps denying that anything is wrong when the kids (especially sensitive and intuitive Ben) ask her to tell her what’s wrong.

As the weeks stretch on and Rory’s big payday keeps getting delayed, the tensions mount in Allison and Rory’s marriage. It reaches a point where he has to ask her to loan him some money from a secret stash of cash that Allison has for emergencies. Allison has lost so much trust in Rory that when she goes to retrieve the cash, she makes him wait in the hallway so he won’t be able to see where she’s hidden it.

One of the best scenes in the movie is shortly after Rory has told Allison that she has nothing to worry about after she discovers they only have £600 in their joint bank account. They go out to a fancy restaurant and she tests him by saying that if they have nothing to worry about, then she can order whatever she wants on the menu. She proceeds to order some high-priced items before Rory stops her. The looks on their faces say it all: Allison is disgusted, Rory is exposed for being a liar, and Allison has now decided she wants more control in this marriage.

The remainder of “The Nest” shows exactly what happens when this marriage becomes a power struggle between someone who wants to continue to live in a fantasy world and someone who wants to deal with reality. Rory’s family background is also revealed, and it explains why he acts the way that he does and why his self-esteem is so wrapped up in becoming rich. And caught in the crossfire are the children Sam and Ben and even Allison’s horse Richmond.

Through it all, Law and Coon give absolutely impressive and realistic performances as people who have to deal with the false public image they put forth to the world versus the harsh reality of who they truly are. Durkin’s solid direction and engaging screenplay are the spark match to this slow-burn movie, but Law’s and Coon’s performances are what give this movie its real fire. The moody cinematography by Mátyás Erdély is also used to great emotional effect, particularly with the darkly lit Surrey mansion, which is a reflection of the shadowy secrets that this family wants to keep. Even though “The Nest” is set in the 1980s, it’s a cautionary tale that is timeless and relevant as long as people commit desperate acts of deception.

IFC Films released “The Nest” in select U.S. cinemas on September 18, 2020, and on digital and VOD on November 17, 2020.

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 Wells.

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 (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: ‘The Rhythm Section,’ starring Blake Lively and Jude Law

January 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Blake Lively in "The Rhythm Section"
Blake Lively in “The Rhythm Section” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“The Rhythm Section”

Directed by Reed Morano

Culture Representation: This globe-trotting action film, which is about a woman who becomes an undercover assassin to avenge the deaths of her family, consists of predominantly white (with some African American and Asian) characters representing the middle and upper classes of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Culture Clash: The protagonist, an American who’s been living in the United Kingdom for several years, wants revenge against an international terrorist group that sets bombs to kill innocent people.

Culture Audience: “The Rhythm Section” will appeal mostly to fans of lead actress Blake Lively, but her myriad of disguises in the film can’t quite cover up the movie’s far-fetched plot.

Blake Lively and Jude Law in “The Rhythm Section” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

If you were to believe Hollywood’s version of what female assassins are like in action dramas, then you’d think that they’re all extremely good-looking, emotionally damaged women (with a past or present drug problem) who don’t have families and have to be a prostitute or “kept woman” to a rich and powerful man at least once, in order to get information or to get revenge. When an assassin/spy movie’s main character is a woman who’s new to the game, she’s almost always trained by a man.

She usually has sexual tension or an affair with her trainer or another man who has some kind of supervisor power over her. And there’s always an excuse to present her in a scantily clad outfit (such as lingerie) or possibly nude in the movie. It should come as no surprise that these movies about female assassins/spies who prostitute themselves are almost always written by men. Think about how many times James Bond, Jason Bourne or “Mission: Impossible’s” Ethan Hunt have had to show their naked private parts or play a male hooker in their movies. Exactly. Zero.

When you take all of these sexist movie stereotypes about female assassins/spies into consideration, “The Rhythm Section” really is just another predictable rehash of the same old formula that seemed fresh with 1990’s “La Femme Nikita,” but has since been recycled so many times that movie audiences have rightfully become bored with it. Recent movie flops such as “Anna,” “Red Sparrow” and “Atomic Blonde” (with “The Rhythm Section” inevitably joining the list) are an indication that audiences are rejecting this concept that female assassins—no matter how badass they are in their gun-toting, disguise-changing ways—are still reduced to being sexpots who are following orders from men. With other more empowered action role models on screen, such as female superheroes, who needs these outdated portrayals of women who go undercover?

The main difference between “The Rhythm Section” and almost every female assassin/spy movie of this type is that “The Rhythm Section” is directed by a woman—Reed Morano, whose directing work on the first season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” earned her an Emmy Award. “The Rhythm Section” (which is a terrible title for an action movie) is based on the novel by Mark Burnell, who wrote the movie’s screenplay. It’s called “The Rhythm Section” because more than one character utters in the film: “Think of your heart as the drums and your breathing as the bass,” as a way to focus when they’re in a dangerous situation. Such pretentious tripe.

Near the beginning of the film, it becomes obvious that Stephanie Patrick (played by Lively) already checks three of the cliché boxes about female assassins in movies. Is she without a family? Check. Her immediate family (her parents and her younger sister and brother) have died in a plane crash three years before the story takes place.

Is she emotionally damaged with a drug problem? Check. She’s so traumatized over the loss of her family that she’s become a down-and-out drug addict. Is she a prostitute too? Check. She goes by the alias “Lisa” when she’s working as a hooker. Before the tragedy, Stephanie was an American who was living in England as a university student. Clearly, her student visa has now expired, just like this movie’s weak concept.

Somehow, a freelance journalist named Keith Proctor (played by Raza Jeffrey) tracks down Stephanie and poses as a client so that he can get into her apartment. He tells her that he doesn’t want sex but wants to tell her that the plane crash that killed her family wasn’t an accident. It was really caused by a bomb that was planted by a terrorist named Muhammad Reza (played Tawfeek Barhom), in yet another movie stereotype that portrays an Arab as a crazy terrorist.

Okay, stop right there. At some point, you have to wonder how stupid the filmmakers think viewers are, because there’s no way that a plane that has been exploded by a bomb, killing everyone (hundreds of people) on board, could be mistaken as an “accident” by government agencies investigating such a major tragedy. But in the world of “The Rhythm Section,” so many things are silly and illogical that there’s no point in trying to make sense of this sloppy mess of a story.

And in the world of “The Rhythm Section,” if you’re a journalist investigating this plane that was “secretly” bombed, you need to track down a drug-addicted prostitute whose immediately family died on the plane and convince her that she needs to help you find this mysterious terrorist, even though she’s so strung out that she can barely function. No joke. That’s what happens in the movie.

Proctor, who already knows Stephanie’s real name, then proceeds to invite her to his place and leave all of his keys with her, even though he knows she’s a drug addict who’ll be tempted to steal from him to get money for drugs. When she points that out to him, he tells her, “I can always change the locks.” It’s no surprise that things don’t turn out very well for Proctor. Before he’s out of the picture, Stephanie confesses to him that she feels guilty because she was supposed to be on the plane with her family, but she changed her mind at the last minute.

Stephanie goes away to a remote countryside in Scotland. And almost immediately, she’s tracked down by another man, who ambushes her. Despite being a messed-up junkie with no background in espionage, law enforcement, the military or intelligence gathering, Stephanie seems to have some kind of invisible radar where people think that she’s the perfect candidate to hunt down an international terrorist. The new man who wants Stephanie to be his terrorist hunter just goes by the name “B” (played by Jude Law), and his mission is to train Stephanie to become an assassin to find not only Reza, but also the head of the international terrorist group that sent Reza to plant the plane’s bomb. The group’s name is U-17, which sounds more like a submarine than a terrorist faction.

And off Stephanie and B go in the remote countryside, where he whips her into shape, as she huffs and puffs on morning jogs she doesn’t want to take. So, no drug rehab then? After some target practice, B’s way of training Stephanie to use a gun is to demand that she shoot him while he’s wearing a bulletproof vest. Viewers will also have to sit through several scenes where B seems to take pleasure in randomly starting physical fights with Stephanie, as a way to prepare her for her new life as a terrorist hunter.

Oh and by the way, as B tells her, Stephanie has to pose as a German spy named Petra, because Petra has disappeared and he needs someone to assume Petra’s identity. And why exactly does Stephanie agree to all of this and go away with this mystery person, who won’t even tell her his full name and says he used to be in MI6 but shows no proof? Are she and this movie’s screenplay that dumb? Yes.

It’s not long before another guy comes into the mix: Marc Serra (played by Sterling K. Brown), an American philanthropist who says he used to be in the CIA and he’s willing to help “Petra” track down the brains behind U-17, so he becomes a trusted advisor. He immediately notices that “Petra” doesn’t have a German accent, and she doesn’t really answer his question when he asks her why she doesn’t have a German accent. (Lively’s accent in the movie is kind of distracting, because it sounds like American trying too hard to sound British. She should’ve just stuck with her real American accent.) Stephanie and Marc are sexually attracted to each other, so of course that means ethics will be compromised and judgment will be clouded.

And even when she assumes a new identity, the movie isn’t done with showing Stephanie/”Petra” being a hooker yet. While disguising herself as a red-haired, high-priced escort, she visits a rich, arrogant businessman named Michael “Leo” Giler (played by Max Casella) in his New York City luxury apartment. B has told her to kill the guy. However, things might or might not go as planned. But that’s not before Stephanie strips down into dominatrix-type lingerie where she slinks and slithers around on Giler to lure him into her seduction trap.

As car chases, gun fights and explosions in several cities around the world act as filler to this very flimsy story, viewers might ask, “Where exactly is this movie going?” For long stretches of the movie, the answer to that question is “nowhere.” And then there’s the laughably bad ending that leaves you wondering how the actors could’ve kept a straight face while filming it. “The Rhythm Section” is an ironic title for this movie, which ultimately hits all the wrong beats and is off-balance from the start.

Paramount Pictures released “The Rhythm Section” in U.S. cinemas on January 31, 2020.