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Movie Review

Autumn in New York

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Directed by Joan Chen. Starring Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Vera Farmiga.

Starring box office favourite Richard Gere and two-time Academy Award nominee Winona Ryder, 'Autumn in New York' is a tale of love in the face of adversity and marks a Hollywood directorial debut for Joan Chen, director of 1998's award winning 'Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl'. This may sound like a successful combination, but don't get excited just yet.

Will Keane (Gere) is a celebrity chef and restaurant owner whose image graces the covers of high society magazines, while scantily clad women grace his left (and right) arms. This playboy verging on 50 has never had a problem with commitment – he knows he's not interested in it. Designer and free spirit Charlotte Fielding (Ryder) holds her 21st birthday bash at his top class eaterie, their eyes meet and it's attraction at first sight.

Will tricks Charlotte into going to a ball with him: he dresses her in a dress he has chosen, they dance, they kiss and romance begins to bloom. How nice. But when Will decides it's time for his "I don't think there's a future for us together" speech, Charlotte has a comeback – one he's never heard before – she only has a year to live, so he doesn't have to worry about committing to forever. How handy. Safe in the knowledge that there can be no future, the pair embark on a season of frolicking amongst the golden leaves of autumnal Manhattan. But as Charlotte grows sicker, Will realises he might not want to let this one go.

When this film was released in the states MGM did not hold press screenings leading to speculation that it was a complete turkey. In fact, 'Autumn...' is not as bad as it could have been – but neither is it particularly good.

Interesting sub-plots are barely touched on – Will dated Charlotte's mother 25 years ago; he has a daughter who he has never met but she is becoming curious. Their family situations (Charlotte is an orphan) may indicate something about the nature of their attraction, but while the film tries hard to say "love knows no age difference", the generation gap is painfully obvious at times – especially in the more physical scenes. And Will begins to act more like her father then her lover when he flouts Charlotte's decision by going in search of medical intervention to save her life.

Despite a pretty shaky script, which sees the leads spouting poetry at each other, the pair are well cast and do an admirable job. Gere is strong as the debonair older man and Ryder always does well in a role that calls for a bit of nymph-like mystery. She convincingly portrays Charlotte as a person who has learnt to live purely in the moment. Both work hard at the on-screen chemistry, but sometimes it simply isn't there.

The film looks beautiful (cinematography is by Changwei Gu – 'Farewell, My Concubine'): New York glows, as do Gere and Ryder. Gere's apartment is slick and modern; Ryder's bedroom is full of hanging beads and drapery. He dresses in clean-cut greys and blacks; she wears vintage clothing with a modern sensibility. The two are often seen in mirrors, behind frosted or tinted glass, their images are reflected in shiny surfaces. But the camera is so in love with the leads that Chen criminally neglects the other characters: Will's best mate John (LaPaglia); Charlotte's grandmother (Stritch), who gives the most memorable performance in the film; and Will's estranged daughter (newcomer Vera Farmiga).

If you're not reaching for the hanky by the closing credits it's because you have never really connected with these superficially sentient beings, who bear no resemblance to inhabitants of the real world. 'Autumn in New York' tries to bring the elements of a classic 1940s Hollywood love story into the Noughties; it's a visually pleasing, but ultimately forgettable attempt.

Cristín Leach

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