Early in Autumn in New York, Winona Ryder, in a romantic mood outdoors with Richard Gere, tells him she can smell the rain. If she had inhaled deeply, she might have smelled something a bit more pungent. The aroma of fetid formulas wafts about her in this movie, which blurs May-December love (albeit mostly in the fall) with disease-of-the-week weepies. Ryder’s irrepressibly winning Charlotte – she says “Wow!” a lot – suffers from some kind of inoperable life-threatening condition. Gere’s Will Keane is the celebrity restaurateur and rake who, to his own dismay, finds himself misty-eyed in her presence. Everyone says he’s too old for her, but why kid yourself? This is, after all, Richard Gere, who periodically turns his silvered mane to catch the light as if he were a newly minted commemorative medallion. Still, one gets the feeling that the filmmakers weren’t entirely happy with the political incorrectness of this pairing, which is why Charlotte, who is literally heartsick, exists in a state of continual near-expiration while Will is made to lament her impending loss. The message here is, if you guys are going to romance women half your age, be prepared to suffer for it. (This should serve as a wake-up call for half the honchos in Hollywood.)
The director of Autumn in New York is Joan Chen, who made an auspicious debut last year with Xiu Xiu, the Sent-Down Girl; this is her first Hollywood feature. She has a lovely sense of film rhythm and a sophisticated eye for luxe effects, but she fell into this vat of goo and there’s no climbing out of it. My guess is that she knew she was taking on a script that resembled a four-hankie version of The Blob and decided to go with it anyway in order to press her credentials as an auteur. Autumn in New York is terrible, but the real scandal here is that Chen, a spirited, original performer who speaks perfect, unaccented English and is one of the screen’s great beauties, finds it necessary to direct such tripe because, as she has admitted in interviews, Hollywood has so little to offer her as an actress except the usual exotica. At a time when even Madison Avenue and the boob tube have moved beyond the lotus-blossom syndrome, it’s maddening to see such attitudes still perpetuated onscreen.