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'Autumn in New York'

'Autumn' leaves behind an uncomfortable tale

Saturday, August 12, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Perhaps the makers of "Autumn in New York" knew that the prospect of a 48-year-old man romancing a 22-year-old woman might give people the heebie-jeebies. Maybe that's why Richard Gere and Winona Ryder keep mentioning why their affair is wrong. Wrong!

"Autumn in New York"

Rating: PG-13 for language, a couple of discreet bedroom scenes.

Starring: Richard Gere, Winona Ryder.

Director: Joan Chen.

Web site:

Critic's call: 1 1/2 stars


When the subject of his age comes up, she quips: "I collect antiques, or I aspire to." He later says, "This isn't right," acknowledging he's old enough to be her father. And the crowning capper: "You're a kid, I'm a creep."

And I thought the dialogue was bad in "The Perfect Storm."

Gere is a hot, hip New York restaurateur named Will who is smitten by a pixie named Charlotte (Ryder), who happens to be the daughter of an old friend who was killed in an accident. When he, a world-class womanizer, tells her they have no future because he's not the committed kind, she seconds that emotion.

You see, she -- spoiler alert! -- is sick. "Nobody even thought I'd last this long."

And thus, we have the rationalization for their romance, even though Gere (who turns 51 later this month) and Ryder (who will be 29 in October) look like father-daughter. A very handsome father and daughter, but you get the picture.

As a friend of Will's so indelicately phrases it: "She's the perfect woman. Young, beautiful and on her way out."

"Autumn in New York" is like bad daytime drama: Can Will learn to love, to truly love? Will Charlotte beat the illness that is slowly snuffing out her life? Is there a doctor somewhere out there in the world who can save her? And what about those mysterious women in Will's orbit?

MGM refused to show critics "Autumn in New York" in advance, and that's never a good sign. As bad as Gere is in the tearful scenes and as uncomfortable as Ryder is in the flirty, giggly ones, I don't blame them. Gere has the charm-o-meter on high, trying to create the same sort of charisma he had with Julia Roberts (33 in October and looking nothing like a teen waif). He fails.

No, I lay the blame at the computer keyboard of writer Allison Burnett, who also penned "Red Meat," "Bleeding Hearts" and "Bloodfist III." She and the Chinese-born director Joan Chen, who directed the unsentimental "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl," have joined forces here.

They seem to want to make an old-fashioned romance (it's PG-13, after all) but they don't have an old-fashioned story or an old-fashioned audience or an old-fashioned pairing such as Bogart and Bacall, who cooked on screen. No one ever mistook him for her daddy on screen -- especially when she taught him how to whistle. No whistling here, just howls of disbelief.

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