In the insular world of film criticism, the hot topic last week was the
romantic tearjerker, "Autumn in New York." First, MGM refused to screen
the movie for reviewers, generally a sure sign of a cinematic dog. Then,
stars Richard Gere and Winona Ryder publicly condemned the decision,
asserting their strong support of the finished product (as best I can
tell, this was the only thing either actor did to publicize the flick).
MGM countered by claiming they were withholding the film only to prevent
writers from giving away key plot points. Their argument appeared
suspect at best, given that trailers for the movie revealed those "key
On opening day, critics hit their local multiplexes, eager to be among
the first to weigh in on the production. I scanned the reviews and the
prevailing reaction seemed to be "Well, it wasn't as bad as I expected."
What a resounding endorsement.
To be fair, "Autumn in New York" has good and bad points. On the plus
side, there's lots of lovely scenic footage of New York City and Richard
Gere's hair. On the minus side, there's the script and the casting. See,
it all balances out.
Richard Gere plays Will Keane, an incredibly successful 48-year-old
Manhattan restaurateur who is far better looking than any of the
celebrity chefs on the Food Network. He has a wonderful head of mostly
white hair that looks as if teams of stylists spend hours every day
making sure it is tousled just right.
While schmoozing at his restaurant one evening, Will and his hair
encounter Charlotte Fielding (Winona Ryder) at a dinner party. Charlotte
is a spunky 21-year-old revered by her friends for her ability to make
kicky hats that resemble pipe cleaner party favors.
Will, a notorious love 'em and leave 'em playboy, sets his sights on
Charlotte, hiring her to construct a hat for a phantom date. When she
shows up with her creation, he claims that he was stood up and asks her
to try on the dress intended for his date. Miracle of miracles, the
dress – a horrific evening gown draped with dozens of what appear to be
fishing lures – fits perfectly. Like a pair of giddy kids, they head out
for a magical Manhattan dream date. Charlotte, by the way, does not wear
the pipe cleaner hat. Continuity error or simply good taste on
Charlotte's part? You make the call.
To its credit, the story directly addresses the dreamy couples' massive
gap in age. Unfortunately, the filmmakers beat the subject to death. One
particularly groan-worthy exchange has Will asking, "You think I'm too
old?" and Charlotte responding, "I collect antiques."
Regardless of their age difference, Richard Gere and Winona Ryder are
never credible as a couple. During their intimate moments, Gere looks
like he's preparing to bite Ryder's neck and suck her blood. And Ryder
appears as uncomfortable as a cat being cradled in a toddler's arms.
The secondary players represent some unusual casting choices. Anthony
LaPaglia strolls in periodically as Will's best buddy, giving a
performance that seems edited in from a different movie. Late in the
story, when a character requires medical attention, a gifted surgeon is
recruited for the job and I was startled to see J.K. Simmons pop up in
the role. HBO subscribers know Simmons from the addictive prison soap
opera, "Oz," where he stars as sadistic white supremacist Schillinger,
the most diabolical of the inmates. When Simmons started dispensing
medical advice in "Autumn," I fought the urge to shout, "He's lying!
It's all part of his twisted plan to destroy poor Tobias Beecher, the
lawyer who ran over the little girl while he was drunk!" Pardon my
digression into dementia, folks. I now return you to the regularly
Director Joan Chen ("Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl") catches the viewer's
eye with numerous picture postcard shots of NYC, although her insistence
on using weather and flying birds footage as metaphors grows tiresome.
Meanwhile, writer Allison Burnett loads the script with cheesy,
embarrassing or simply awkward lines. While we're used to hearing movie
characters deliver cumbersome, information-packed soliloquies in order
to provide viewers with needed background details, was it really
necessary to have Will ask his adult daughter, "How is Millie, your
Despite the leaden writing, veteran actor Elaine Stritch creates the
story's most engaging character in Dolly, Charlotte's grandmother: a
vinegary, weathered old lady whose depth provides a neat contrast to
Will's Peter Pan demeanor. One small change would have made "Autumn in
New York" a better film. Instead of Winona Ryder, Richard Gere should
have fallen in love with Elaine Stritch. The age difference between the
actors is about the same, but the pairing would have been infinitely
more intriguing. Oh sure, Gere would have vetoed the idea in a second,
but I bet his hair would have been in favor of it.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott