Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:43 - Released 8/11/00

It's amazing what a little bit of talent can do with a so-so idea. Autumn In New York, written by Allison Burnett and directed by actress turned director Joan Chen, is a formulaic, tear-jerking update of Love Story (terminally-ill young woman meets love of her life), but somehow Winona Ryder and Richard Gere make it worth seeing, especially Ryder, who is effervescent in her doomed character's lust for life. Gere, who portrays the suave, charming playboy (again), counterbalances her youthful exuberance; he may be playing the same part as ever, but perhaps this is simply the film it was made for. Their chemistry is largely responsible for any success Autumn might enjoy, although the weakness of its present competition certainly doesn't hurt.

Gere plays 48 year old Will Keane, bachelor, socialite, and known womanizer, who is the owner of one of New York's most prestigious restaurants. He meets artist/poet Charlotte (Ryder) when she celebrates her 22nd birthday party at his establishment. The two are introduced by Charlotte's grandmother Dolly (Elaine Stritch), the mother of Will's old friend Katie (now deceased), who was Charlotte's mother. Although Will is old enough to be her daddy, the two hit it off and begin a carefree relationship which he considers nothing more than another of his frequent Cassanova-style flings. But when Charlotte tells him she is dying of a heart condition and may only have a year left to live, he is struck with conflicting feelings: should he allow this young, terminally-ill girl to fall in love with him when he is unable to make a serious commitment? On the other hand, if she really cares for him, should he deny her the experience of love during her last days? What he doesn't expect is the depth of the feelings he has for her. And what finally changes his life is the visit he receives from his own long-lost daughter (played beautifully by Vera Farmiga), who makes him realize how much he needs to change his ways for Charlotte.

Gere is not doing anything new here; he's the same character he played in Pretty Woman, Sommersby, First Knight, Red Corner, Runaway Bride, etc., etc. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. This time, perhaps thanks to Ryder, it works. Gere is charming, conceited, debonair, and, eventually, humble. His character takes heat from grandma Dolly, who saw what he did to her daughter all those years ago and begs him to "leave (Charlotte) alone," and his friend and bartender John (Anthony LaPaglia), who reproaches him with cynicism: "she's the perfect girlfriend — young, pretty, and on her way out." Even Charlotte is brutally pragmatic about the situation, saying, "In a year or so, I'll be this terrific sob story you can use to bag more chicks." Ryder is breezy and energetic; she bouys the film up from its depressing subject matter, as was clearly director Chen's intention.

Romances can wear thin, and Burnett's script is nothing special, jumping from one predictable, melodramatic twist to the next. But Autumn In New York shows that the right couple of actors can make the difference. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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