A scene from 'Autumn In New York'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 104 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, August 11, 2000
Directed by Joan Chen

Starring Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia, Elaine Stritch & Vera Farmiga


Romantic nonsense. Rent a classic instead.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 01.02.2000


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Practiced playboy Gere discovers cradle-robbing romance with terminal Ryder in cloying 'Autumn'

By Rob Blackwelder

In "Autumn In New York," terminally tumor-bound Winona Ryder and her seriously senior lover Richard Gere have a whole conversation about what it means to be "unique" as opposed to "typical."

Oh, the irony.

An utterly typical movie lacking even a hint of uniqueness, "Autumn" is a Hallmark card redeaux of the "Love Story"-style tragic romance with a September-May twist.

The plot: Aging habitual playboy and rich restaurateur Will Keane (Gere) meets freshly-22 Charlotte Fielding (Ryder) and finally discovers a love that may break him of his wandering ways -- just as she is about to exit stage left courtesy of an incurable, vaguely cancerous heart condition, the only symptom of which is that she gets more beautiful the more her health deteriorates.

The problems: Where to start?

1) Aside from being given quirky character traits (Ryder designs hats), there's nothing distinguishing about either of these depth-deprived characters, and certainly nothing to indicate why sometimes naive young Charlotte should be anything more to Will than another opportunity for a cradle-robbing fling.

2) The music-swelling moments depend on the misogynistic Hollywood notion that women should forgive men for being lying, philandering dogs. Claiming to be in love but unable to help himself, and knowing full well Charlotte is dying, Will still screws an ex-girlfriend at a Halloween party (he wears a dog costume -- get it?).

Aww, ain't it sweet when selfish womanizers are redeemed? Honestly ladies, does this sort of thing really appeal to you?

3) Making Will even less appealing (save his looks and disarming charisma), we learn that in his youth he romanced Charlotte's long-dead mother and that he's an absentee father.

4) The dialogue is just awful. Besides gratuitously quoting poetry to each other while walking among golden leaves in Central Park (and, of course, on her death bed), the actors are forced to labor through such laughable lines as: "Love is not a race," "You don't dance, you float" and other whoppers no sensible girl would buy for a second.

I could go on, but "Autumn In New York" is so formulaic, common and shallow it's hardly worth the effort.

To be fair, the picture isn't a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. The leads share a pert and charming chemistry together, it's nothing if not handsome ("Farewell My Concubine" cinematographer Changwei Gu makes Manhattan look more magical than it has in probably 30 years), and actress-turned-director Joan Chen obviously has no delusions about the fact that she's a hired hand cranking out soft-focus shash. For what it's worth, "Autumn" is well directed.

But having seen "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl," Chen's daring, accomplished and deeply moving Chinese-language directorial debut -- a labor of love shot clandestinely in China that resulted in her banishment from the country -- I can't help but be disappointed that she would even sign on to a movie this weightless and cloying.

"Autumn In New York" plays like every reel has been dipped in heavy syrup before it was loaded onto the projector.

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