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Autumn in New York

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Autumn in New York

Starring: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder
Director: Joan Chen
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: August 2000
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Mary Beth Hurt

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

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 plot points."

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 scheduled review.

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 mother?"

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

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