Autumn in New York (Joan Chen, 2000)
Category: Sad movie about a May-December relationship. This term is used to define a relationship in which “the age differential between the two adults is wide enough to risk social disapproval.” First of all, I’ve never quite understood the choice of the months here. May isn’t that early in the year. Sure, it’s springtime and all that, but the year’s almost half-over! It’s hardly a nubile month. And saying December is weirder still. When I think of May-December romances, I think of men in midlife crisis, not men who are in the last 8.33 (repeating, of course) percent of their lives. Nowadays, the term is more applicable to relationships involving people of about the same age as Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in this film: men in their fifties and women in their twenties.
Here’s the thing about May-December relationships: they’re weird, gross, and, most importantly, ALWAYS unpopular among friends (provided those friends are not “enlightened” academic types who wear blazers with elbow patches and discuss semiotics and have loose morals). They’re really only interesting or fulfilling to the people involved in them. Now of course, this statement is probably true of every individual romantic relationship. No matter how much they pretend otherwise, no one wants to hear about how happy or sad or confused or unsure you are about your relationship. (They want you to listen to them talk about their relationships.) I mean that the entire genre of May-December relationships is pretty much abhorrent, or at the very least vaguely unpleasant, by necessity. I’ll get into this more in a bit.
Devotees will recall that this film was the loser of the famous Blog Poll that pitted it against the Keanu Reeves-Charlize Theron fiasco Sweet November, a movie I’m still trying to get my head around. I set up the poll because I couldn’t tell the two movies apart, partially due to the fact that this film, as well as Sweet November, is a sad movie about a terminally ill Manic Pixie Dream Girl. One can only hope that this is where the plot-related similarities end, because if I have to see a naked Richard Gere grunting pump-up mantras to himself immediately after having sex at 7 AM, I’m going to need another blog hiatus while I seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
My familiarity with this issue: No matter how much younger the girls I date are than me, I’m still not in May-December territory. May-June, at the very worst.
Don’t get me wrong here: I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want, or at least whatever makes them happy. I don’t actually mean to unfairly judge people here. But most movies are supposed to invite us into a world in which we feel comfortable, and the concept of a May-December relationship is just inherently uncomfortable. Think about it: if you’re a man in your fifties, and you start going out with some girl in her twenties, the MOST positive reaction you will get from friends is a halfhearted “Way to go, man!” They’ll just secretly resent you for it, as they’re probably all married with kids. If they meet the girl, they’re not going to have anything in common with her, and would either just undress her with their eyes all night, or make awkward references to the fact that their kids are around her age. So everyone’s just going to be uncomfortable here.
And if you’re a girl in your twenties, and you start dating some dude in his fifties, your friends will rightly say, “Ew, that’s creepy.” Chances are you’re one of those girls that says things like, “I’m just too mature for boys my age,” in which case your friends probably hate you anyway. (Not to mention the boys your age.) So no one’s happy, except ostensibly the two people involved, and the word “happy” loses all meaning in the impenetrable morass of mortality/Daddy issues that these relationships often involve.
The weight of the weirdness of these relationships is usually too much to bear for them to be dramatically interesting in movies. Now, there certainly are good movies that feature May-December romances (including two of my favorite movies ever, Manhattan and Ghost World). But in those movies the relationships are not necessarily celebrated, or they’re secondary to the larger plot, or they’re used to try to make the same kind of point I’m trying to make. A movie that wants us to root for a May-December couple is usually setting itself up for failure.
So yeah, I have high hopes for this one.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A May-December romance. He's 48, on the cover of New York magazine, an upscale restaurateur, and a womanizer who rejects ideas of love. She's 22, living with her grandmother, artistic, facing a tumor that's life-threatening, which she tells him about the morning after their first night, when he tells her not to expect permanence from him. Will finds Charlotte unprecedented and unpredictable, and experiences feelings of love, but she packs him off when he's casually unfaithful. He's stung, and he's also flummoxed by the appearance of a young woman from his past. Can he convince Charlotte to take him back, and can he help her through her illness and change his irresponsible ways?”
What I thought about the movie: I fell asleep while watching this movie.
Now I am aware that this is something that happens to the best of us, even while watching interesting movies. Furthermore, my current job requires me to work long hours, making me more prone to mid-film naps. HOWEVER. It’s not like I was curled up on the couch with a nice cup of tea and just drifted off toward the end of Act One. I was sitting in a chair with my headphones in watching it on my laptop, which was placed, as laptops are wont to be placed, on my lap. So as far as this movie is concerned, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in ourselves, but in our stars/how generally shitty the whole first half hour of the movie was. So I made the executive decision to not go back and try it again. I’ve read the Wikipedia plot summary of the rest of the film, and I think I get the idea. Trust me. I go through a lot to write this blog for you people, and to ask me to make two attempts to watch this film is asking too much.
First I want to talk about Richard Gere’s appearance in this film. I concede the fact that Richard Gere was once an incredibly handsome dude. An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, etc. A distinguished gent. Heck, even as late as Runaway Bride (only released a year before this movie) he’s not looking too shabby. But in this movie, playing a womanizing restaurant owner, he’s going with the long gray hair, and he looks like a goat. That is all I could think about when he was swishing his way around his fancy restaurant, womanizing. I was waiting for him to start braying, or mention a bridge or a troll or something. Real goat-like, I’m telling you.
So here he plays the hot restaurateur of the moment, recently featured on the cover on New York magazine, and so every woman in the city who subscribes to New York magazine wants to get in there. And I’m not just talking about the restaurant! He’s more than happy to oblige, because as I mentioned earlier, he is a womanizer. That’s all I really learned about him in the first half hour of the film. He’s a singularly unlikable character: rich and spoiled and childlike and womanizing and goat-like. I’m not having it.
So one day he sees young haberdasher Winona Ryder across the restaurant and is transfixed. (Oh yeah that’s her thing; she makes hats. Artsy, hipster hats that seem as sturdy as the crowns from Burger King.) We find out that she’s the granddaughter of Elaine Stritch. Two notes here: 1) not even Elaine Stritch, who is the greatest lady ever, could save
this movie the first half hour of this movie, and 2) I was really hoping that, at one point, Elaine Stritch would look disapprovingly at Winona Ryder and say, “does anyone still wear a hat?” But that didn’t happen.
We find out Gere had had a thing with Stritch’s daughter/Ryder’s mom. Nothing weird here. It’s universally agreed by every woman in this movie that Gere is the paragon of desirability, even though, to the objective viewer, he appears to be a vapid, pompous windbag with nothing to say and a notorious goat-face. (Also he is a womanizer.) He calls Winona up a few days later and asks her to make him a hat to give to his date for some soiree he’s going to, and if I were reading this out loud you could tell how sarcastic I’m sounding right now because YEAH AS IF that’s his plan. She shows up to his place with the hat and AMAZINGLY his date canceled and so he’s not gonna go, “unless… no, forget it.” HE ACTUALLY SAYS THIS. And she acts as if she has no idea where he’s going with this, and seems flabbergasted at the idea that he would want to go with her. (She says, “I would go with you in a heartbeat. You’re fabulous!” FABULOUS.)
So they go, and she wears this dress that he happened to have ready there that looks like it’s covered with paper clips, and it’s one of those rich New York parties under a big white tent somewhere in Central Park and I could just vomit all over the screen. They dance, and he says, “Mannnn you don’t dance, you float!” Disgusting. That was the last thing I took notes on (writing that line verbatim). They sleep together, she reveals that she has some heart condition, and he feels bad. It’s boring and bizarre all at once. Everyone seems like they’re sleepwalking through their terrible lines. And so my reaction to this part of the movie is brought to you by the letter “z.” As in, “zzzzzzzzzzzz.”
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
How I felt after the movie ended: [Yawns] What’d I miss?
(I read the rest of the plot summary, in case you’re interested. So Gere's empathy about the girl's terminal illness does not prevent him from sleeping with someone else. Ryder is mad about that, and the fact that Elaine Stritch didn't tell her about his thing with her MOM. But somehow she gets over it, they have a lovely fling, and then she dies. Gere then has a better relationship with his own estranged daughter, having just had an affair with someone about her age. He understands the youth better now!)
Am I upset that I didn't stay awake for the whole film? Kind of. I'm sure I could've been indignant about this movie for about 3,000 more words, and everyone enjoys that. But this movie seems more boring-terrible than fascinating-terrible. Autumn in New York is even worse than your standard May-December romance, in that in addition to being a December, he’s also an asshole. So you’re DOUBLY not rooting for them to work it out. You’re rooting for Winona Ryder to meet someone nicer before she dies. Or at least shoplift her way to happiness.
Of course the real crime of (what I saw of) the movie was how completely unrealistic it was. Fake people spouting fake lines conjuring up fake emotions about some fakely sick girl. It's about people whose lives not only have no relationship to our own, but no relationship to those of any interesting people who actually exist. It’s the worst kind of escapism.
Tune in FRIDAY to Taste My Sad for the best kind of escapism!!! BLOG CLIFFHANGER.