I tempted the cancel-culture gods last weekend and watched a Woody Allen movie. Right in the middle, no less, of plowing my way through Allen v Farrow, the four-part HBO documentary series that (for many viewers, at least) seems to nail down the case that Allen was guilty of molesting his seven-year-old stepdaughter Dylan a couple of decades ago.
The movie, A Rainy Day in New York, is the one Allen completed in 2018 but whose release was shelved after Dylan’s allegations resurfaced and Woody became Hollywood’s latest pariah. Actors who once clamored to star in his films now claimed they regretted ever working with him. Amazon cancelled its four-film production deal with him. Film critics said they could never watch a Woody Allen film again.
Well, I can. Partly, I confess, out of sheer obsessiveness. Ever since his first directorial effort, Take the Money and Run — a revolutionary film comedy, still one of the funniest of all time — I have gone to the multiplex to see every one of his films, good, bad, and indifferent. So when I found A Rainy Day in New York quietly buried away in an Amazon Prime queue, lonely and unwatched, I was there.
A Rainy Day in New York is no better or worse than most of Allen’s recent films — which is to say, pretty awful. A college student (Timothee Chalamet) and his girlfriend (Elle Fanning) go to New York City for a weekend, get separated, and scramble through a series of misadventures, star encounters, and romantic near-entanglements, on the road to reevaluating their relationship. It has all the faults of Woody’s late-career movies: too talky, lazily directed (at times Allen just seems to have left the camera on and gone off for a coffee break), too contrived with plot twists that seem both recycled from earlier Allen films and completely arbitrary. All we’re left with is a nice Vittorio Storaro visual tour of Manhattan, and Allen’s usual soundtrack of lush jazz standards.
Still, it dismays me to think that this is the way Allen’s career is ending, especially for a filmmaker who has been a critics’ darling for longer than he probably deserved. As recently as 2011 — years after the child-abuse allegations were revealed, debated, and adjudicated — his comedy-fantasy Midnight in Paris (which I hated) won some of the best reviews of Allen’s career, and even earned him another Oscar for best screenplay. What, exactly, has changed?
The Harvey Weinstein revelations and Hollywood’s #MeToo awakening, of course, which has revived the whole Allen-Farrow soap opera. The HBO documentary skillfully rides that wave. Mia Farrow is the main witness, walking us through the entire horror show, which began with her discovery in 1992 that Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi. We also hear from Dylan — both today and in the 1992 videotape in which Mia interviews Dylan about the alleged abuse — as well as from other siblings, family friends, and psychiatrists, all of whom support her story.
It’s a convincing case. But it is, of course, the prosecution’s case. Left out is any countervailing evidence — the account of Dylan’s brother Moses, for example, who has disputed the charges, pointed out inconsistencies in Dylan’s story, and described a dysfunctional childhood with a controlling and vindictive mother. (Two of his adoptive siblings, Moses points out, have committed suicide.) Then too, there’s the inconvenient fact that two separate investigations — by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital and the New York State Department of Social Services — concluded at the time that there was no credible evidence of sexual abuse.
The documentary goes to great lengths to discredit the Yale findings (and I expect will do the same with the New York State report in Sunday’s final episode). Yet I am always suspicious when the losers in any court battle try to relitigate their case in public. (Donald Trump, you may recall, did pretty much the same thing, managing to convince a good portion of the country that all those judges who found no evidence of election fraud simply got it wrong.) The two investigations came to their conclusions after weighing all the evidence on both sides (including the Dylan videotape, which the documentary treats as its smoking gun). HBO viewers are hearing just one side.
I don’t presume to know who is telling the truth. And maybe I’m being swayed by my affection for a filmmaker who (despite his late-career decline) has meant so much to me, and to Hollywood. He has finished one more film, Rifkin’s Festival, which premiered at the San Sebastian Film Festival last September, but is nowhere to be found — not even on Amazon. After HBO is finished with him, I doubt it will surface anywhere. That makes me sad.