Dir: Joan Chen. US. 2000. 105 mins.
Prod co: Lakeshore Entertainment. US dist: MGM. Int'l sales: Lakeshore International (+1 323 956 4222). Exec prods: Ted Tannenbaum, Ron Bozman. Prods: Amy Robinson, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg. Scr: Allison Burnett. DoP: Changwei Gu. Prod des: Mark Friedberg. Ed: Ruby Yang. Mus: Gabriel Yared. Main cast: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch, Vera Farmiga, Sherry Stringfield.
Resurrecting unpleasant memories of 70s schmaltzers like Love Story or The Last Snows Of Spring, Autumn In New York is a gloomy muddle of a movie which may just generate some ample grosses in the worldwide marketplace because it's the only women's movie out there.
Why director Joan Chen, who made a memorable debut with Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl, or Gere and Ryder were keen to commit to Allison Burnett's truly banal screenplay is anybody's guess. While not painful to watch like The Scarlet Letter or The Avengers, it's turgid and boring, with the two stars proving utterly devoid of chemistry in their scenes together.
Nevertheless, it has already raised eyebrows in the US with an $11.5m opening weekend, its audience largely composed of older women sick to death of by-the-numbers blockbusters aimed squarely at teenage boys. In foreign territories, sold to independents by production company Lakeshore, it could open even better since its two stars - Richard Gere and Winona Ryder - will carry more weight. You suspect that sentiment-loving nations like Italy will embrace it wholeheartedly.
Word of mouth on the other hand, will kill it. Women drawn to the stars, romance and prospect of a good cry, will see it, but, disappointed on all three counts, won't urge their friends to. Gere plays Will Keane, a nearly past-it playboy who runs a fancy New York restaurant and trails a string of women, none of whom he can commit to. Into his restaurant one day walks 21-year-old Charlotte (Ryder, 28 in real life), the daughter of a former lover of his, who catches his eye. The two embark on an affair, and Keane even stays keen when he finds out she's got one of those terminal heart illnesses movie characters get which allow them to remain stunningly beautiful even though they might drop dead any second.
Meanwhile the new sensitivity she brings out in him also reconciles him with his long-abandoned daughter (Farmiga). Chen and DoP Changwei Gu create beautiful images of wintry New York reminiscent of the Chinese film culture they both come from. Indeed, the city walks away with the film. Gere and Ryder are just left to weep, read poetry to each other and execute some of the least convincing screen kisses since the golden age of cinema.