AUTUMN IN NEW YORK(director: Joan Chen; screenwriter: Allison Burnett; cinematographer: Changwei Gu; editor: Ruby Yang; cast: Richard Gere (Will Keane), Winona Ryder (Charlotte Fielding), Vera Farmiga (Lisa, Will’s Daughter), Anthony LaPaglia (John), Elaine Stritch (Dolly), Runtime: 105; MGM; 2000)
“This love story never convincingly goes beyond the depth of two good-looking people falling in love based on their looks.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A tearjerker love story about the handsome Richard Gere as a 48-year-old womanizer and Winona Ryder as a 22-year-old Emily Dickinson-quoting hat designer, who doesn’t have long to live because of a tumor in her heart. There’s nothing that isn’t predictable about this sappy formula sob story and there’s nothing about this flat romance between these two good-looking upper-middle-class yuppies that is endearing. It is a disappointing film lacking imagination, turgidly acted, and laden with a mechanical script.It’s a real downer after the director’s more sweeping last film, “Xiu-Xiu: The Sent Down Girl.”
At Gere’s trendy upscale Manhattan restaurant Ryder is celebrating her birthday and Gere recognizes one of the guests as an old acquaintance, Ryder’s irascible grandmother, Elaine Stritch. She introduces this wolf, whom she has little use for, to her granddaughter; and, right on the spot they both fall in love. Stritch goes back to the time Gere wooed her daughter and left her emotionally upset by jilting her. He also impregnated her best friend and left her without ever seeing the child. They haven’t seen each other for some time, so I guess granny has a memory lapse of what she thinks of him. For some inexplicable reason she helps get this romance started.
Gere is a smooth liar, skilled in seducing women and then leaving them. He unnecessarily tricks Winona into going to a formal gala event with him. It was unnecessary because this silly girl who loves to say ‘wow,’ is dying to go out with him and didn’t need to be tricked into doing so. He quickly gets her to bed but honoring the old-fashioned conventions of films shot in the 1930s, we don’t get to see any sex. The next morning the playboy deceptively tells her that he is too old for her and then gives her his standard non-commitment speech, “All I’m able to offer you is this–what we have right now–until it ends. We have no future.”
Winona cheerfully tells him, “I collect antiques.” Winona also tells Gere that this romance is taking place only because she will be dying soon. Winona finds him so irresistible, that she swallows all these tired playboy lines of his and they go on a whirlwind May-December romance. Anthony LaPaglia is a loyal friend to Gere, and he also is the host in Gere’s eatery. His job in the film is to say cliché lines that reprimand Gere for being such a cad to women. He warns him that if he doesn’t find the right woman someday when he gets too old to be a wolf, he will be alone drinking egg nogs to himself on Christmas. I guess in the way this film looks at things, that would be a terrible retribution.
Gere has a quickie with an old flame on the roof at a Halloween party, while Winona is telling bedtime stories to LaPaglia’s children. When caught Gere can only tell Winona that he felt like having sex, it was no big deal. This shakes up Winona, who is the one in this relationship who is committed to telling the truth. To add to the melodramatics Gere tries his best to woo her back, thinking of himself as a better man now that he has suffered from some momentary pains due to her leaving him. This love story never convincingly goes beyond the depth of two good-looking people falling in love based on their looks.
Gere’s neglected daughter (Vera) tracks him down from a picture of him that appeared in a popular magazine, and she eagerly meets him for the first time wondering if he’s a good guy. She is about Winona’s age. Gere goes through a redemptive phase after talking with her asking for forgiveness, which had about the same amount of sincerity in it as President Clinton’s apology to the nation had for his inappropriate conduct.
To pile on some more weepie scenes, Winona keeps fainting and Gere keeps trying to find a miracle to save her. When Winona faints while skating at Rockefeller Center, a surgeon flies in to save her. Since everything about this film is manipulative, if there were Las Vegas odds it would be 4 to 5 against her living. This film is just as corny and as predictable as the 1970 film “Love Story.”
The only good line in the film comes from Gere, when asked by Winona what made him become a food guy: He says, “Food is the only beautiful thing that truly nourishes.”
This is basically an exterior movie as Manhattan is warmly photographed, but the interiors of the two lovers was never made to seem warm. The romance never rung true and the stars did not have a good chemistry together. Gere is content to be in love with himself, always smugly smiling while everyone exclaims him as so handsome; while Ryder was too shrill to be engaging. At one point, Ryder when in Central Park waxes poetic and tells him “I can smell the rain.” She then coos and makes a contorted face of pleasure and with this trite dialogue and mushy call for love, amid the autumn splendor of the golden leaves beautifully photographed by Changwei Gu, we are asked to believe that these unreal lovers are for real.
REVIEWED ON 8/16/2000 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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