Autumn in New York

When hotshot restaurateur and womanizer Will Keane (Richard Gere) meets Charlotte Fielding (Winona Ryder), she’s a diner in his restaurant having her 22nd birthday party dinner with friends. The other guests are quick to chat with him – they all clearly think this old guy is drop dead gorgeous – but arty hatmaker Charlotte stays quiet and demure. “Do you speak?” an already-lusty Will asks.

Well, Charlotte doesn’t really speak much, and herein lies one of the main problems with this film: Given Charlotte’s 22 years to Will’s 48, what is it that draws these two together? Sure, it’s partly lust, but to really care about what happens to these two characters, the audience needs to know why they care about each other.

Will cleverly connives to get Charlotte to go on a date with him in an awful white dress, one things leads to another and it’s morning – time to discuss their “relationship”. Will tells Charlotte he can only offer her “this”, and he’s only being honest because he really likes her. Charlotte responds that she, too, can only offer him “this” because she has a terminal illness and she’s only telling him because she really likes him.

And so, despite the warnings of friends – and of Charlotte’s grandmother (Elaine Stritch) – Will falls for the dying Charlotte, and Charlotte for some reason falls in love with Will. The age difference between the two is emphasized by the fact that Charlotte’s mother also fell for Will, but, the script emphatically points out, they didn’t sleep together. Yeah, sure! We already know that would be utterly unlike Will.

Ryder, despite slowly succumbing to a fatal illness with no name, couldn’t possibly look more radiant and vital if she tried – she’s just inconvenienced by an occasional fainting episode at dramatically appropriate moments. She and Gere both put in reasonable performances, but there’s just no convincing chemistry between the two.

Actress-turned-director Joan Chen (Xiu Xiu: the Sent Down Girl) makes the most of it being autumn in New York, and cinematographer Changwei Gu does a good job of capturing the city’s beauty. This is a fine film to watch; besides parks filled with russet leaves, boats in lakes and ice rinks, there’s Charlotte in her white bedroom, playing with stringed glass beads hanging from her ceiling, there’s rainy streets, cozy restaurants, trendy apartments and eventually there’s a dusting of snow on the streets to indicate – a little obviously – that time really is ticking away for Charlotte.

There is a subplot of mystery, as an attractive woman (Vera Farmiga) who could be a former lover tries to find out more about Will. Who is she? Is she a threat to Will and Charlotte’s relationship? It’s an interesting diversion that serves to emphasize the difference in age between Will and Charlotte, and allows Will a bit of character development, but once her identity and past is revealed, one has to wonder why Charlotte doesn’t already know this woman.

Plot inconsistencies aside, this is a film that isn’t too ambitious from the start, so it doesn’t fail to deliver. It’s a sentimental romance that’s nice to watch; there just should have been a little more substance to the romance part.

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