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Apologies Accepted For This Love Story

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 12, 2000


    'Autumn in New York' Richard Gere and Winona Ryder try their chances at love. (MGM)
Whether it's classy like "An Affair to Remember" or cloying like "Beaches," a tearjerker should at least provide a sniffle, if not a good cry. But there's no need for a hankie when it comes to "Autumn in New York," a laughable, romantic melodrama with waif Winona Ryder and grizzled Richard Gere.

It's not that the tiresome twosome don't try to make us care. Hoo boy, do they ever make earnest work of this superficial sob story. Gere plays Will, a randy celebrity chef, with such solemnity you'd think he was communing with the Dalai Lama instead of coming on to a cheeping baby chick. In contrast, Ryder's sweet Charlotte giggles and twitters enough for a whole slumber party.

Unfortunately, this brief encounter between May and December is as far-fetched as it is unsavory. Will is 30 years older than Charlotte, and an incorrigible skirt-chaser, but he repeatedly assures her that their love is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The film seems to suggest, however, that there's an upside: He's no good at long-term relationships and she's terminally ill! Talk about your match made in Heaven. "This wouldn't work out if you weren't . . . um . . . er . . . sick," he simpers.

Incredibly, this is an offer no dying girl can refuse. "He is irresistible," observes Charlotte's crotchety granny (Elaine Stritch), who introduces them at Charlotte's birthday party. The 21-year-old is agog. Even her gay best friend wants him. He's that darned cute.

As if things weren't complicated enough, what with his age and her illness, Will had a childhood romance with Charlotte's late mother. But that was 30 years ago, recalls Granny, along about the time he knocked up her mother's tennis partner. Despite the past, Charlotte puts her faith in Will's enduring love.

The filmmakers tried to temper the incestuous nature of the relationship. As Granny announces, "Your mother never slept with him." That's nice, but there are other potentially icky possibilities like this one: "You don't dance, you float," Will whispers into Charlotte's perfect pink ear. "I used to dance on my father's feet when I was a little girl," she replies with a blush.

Charlotte looks positively radiant, especially for someone who has a life-threatening condition. She looks great even when she's got hospital tubes coming out of her nose. Will is a sterling silver fox, but his man breasts are clearly drooping beneath his cashmere pullover. Of course, love conquers all--love handles included.

Directed by Joan Chen and written by Allison Burnett ("Bleeding Heart"), the picture is a veritable bouquet of ardent cliches and witless sentiments reminiscent of "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Quite the contrary, love means saying you're sorry a thousand times over. Then again such notions are never inscribed on valentines, and "Autumn in New York" is a lot like a red satin box of cheap chocolates. It's pretty--except when the boom mike peeks into the frame--and it reminds us that it's always the thought that counts. Not that much deep thinking went on here.

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK (PG-13, 105 minutes) – Contains sensuality.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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