AUTUMN IN NEW YORK
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
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