In 2000, a little film came out called “Autumn in New York” starring Richard Gere and Winona Ryder, with supporting roles from Vera Farmiga, Elaine Stritch, Anthony LaPaglia, Jill Hennessy and J.K. Simmons. Written by Allison Burnett and directed by Joan Chen, it has a mere 20% Rotten Tomatoes score (54% audience score) and a 5.5 IMBD rating. Despite this, the film was a financial success, grossing $90 million at the worldwide box office. Just like now, women are starved for anything and will watch anything geared somewhat toward us. [BTW: “Autumn in New York” is currently available to stream on HBO.]
I approached this movie in the genre intended (i.e. with relatively low expectations) and imagined that it could land somewhere between “Pretty Woman”(1990) and “Runaway Bride” (1999) in the Gere-oeuvre and, yet, I was still surprised at how cringe-worthy this movie was!
After watching, my main thoughts were:
- I should have liked it, but I didn’t?
- The casting felt super weird. Zero. Chemistry.
- WTF with those hats?
- Richard Gere and his “daughter” Vera Farmiga had more chemistry and could have been a better, though equally young, love interest. It’s not her fault that Winona Ryder is perpetually youthful looking (Farmiga was mid-20s to Ryder’s late-20s at the time of the film). Regardless, Gere’s character is a terrible father.
- Are we 100% positive that Winona’s character was not Richard Gere’s character’s daughter?! I mean, what does the grandma *really* know about her teenage daughter’s sex life? Sure, she said explicitly (but rather late in the film) that they never had sex, but, still…
- They thought it was a good idea for him to basically take over medical care decisions for her?? HE JUST MET HER. HE SHOULDN’T TALK TO HER DOCTORS. OR THREATEN TO FORGE HER SIGNATURE ON MEDICAL DOCUMENTS.
- Approached in the right frame of mind, this movie was hilarious and a great time.
First, we need to meet it on its own terms. Thus, think back to the years around 2000… In the Oscar-nominated realm, there was American Beauty (2000, winner), Chocolat (2001 nom), and Erin Brokovich (2001 nom), among others—not that I expected this to be at the level, but it’s good to remind yourself what was getting Oscar buzz. In terms of high grossing films (that weren’t action/adventure, thriller, animated/PG), there was “What Women Want” (2000, #4 highest grossing in U.S.) and “Pearl Harbor” (2001, #6 highest grossing in U.S.).
Gere was obviously a decade older than when he led “Pretty Woman” in 1990, but he had just released “Runaway Bride” in 1999, still a little off but far superior than this movie. (Gere was 50 or 51 when he filmed this.)
And then we have Winona Ryder, one of the most successful actresses in the 1990s. Most of us remember, but it is staggering to review even a limited filmography: “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Heathers” (1988), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), “Mermaids” (1990), “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992), “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “Little Women” (1994), “Reality Bites,” (1994), “The Crucible” (1996), “Alien: Resurrection” (1997), “Celebrity” (1998), and “Girl Interrupted” (1999), for which she was also an executive producer. Released in 2000, “Autumn in New York” represented what in retrospect was a transformative moment in her career. She was awarded a Hollywood Star in 2000, but the very next year she was the star of tabloid journalism for being caught shoplifting. Though two films premiered after 2001, they were filmed earlier, and she was effectively on hiatus between 2001 and 2005.
Okay. That’s all well and good. We’re in the right mindset! Now, I can’t go any further with my gif recap without sharing with you all some of the absolutely BRUTAL reviews this film earned. Ho. Ly. Shit. I just love reviews in general, and harsh reviews can be the best.
To whet your appetite, here are some of the descriptions used by the reviewers to alternately describe Richard Gere himself and Gere’s character Will:
- obscenely glamorous; aura of cocky arrogance; sneaky and evasive liar; selfish sleazo
- long tradition of treating women badly; legendary womanizer; prowling and wolfish; loutish
- grizzled, sterling silver fox, his man breasts are clearly drooping
- superstar Manhattan chef; randy celebrity chef; womanizing restaurateur; restauranteur-celeb whose sexual exploits and lucrative institution have placed him on the cover of New York magazine
And here are some of the phrases used to describe both Winona Ryder and Ryder’s character Charlotte:
- winsome; prim, homespun quality; demureness and innocence; waif
- ailing; the picture of sparkling vitality and fun until she has sudden fainting spells; positively radiant, especially for someone who has a life-threatening condition; improbably stiff upper lip; dying from a sketchy illness ‘of the heart’
- shy honoree; coy and girlish debutante; cloying and cryptic; giggles and twitters enough for a whole slumber party
- doe-eyed young designer; truth-teller; poem spouting, funky hat making princess; very nice; unbelievably lovely
Honestly, just reading those descriptions, you can imagine the entire film. But, you don’t want to stop at imagination, do you?! No! Here, I’ve selected excerpts from some of the cleverest (and harshest) reviews from the major outlets at the time [scroll further for the gif-tastic recap]:
Joe Queenan’s review in The Guardian (June 2001) nicely highlights the absurdity of hats, and the quintessential squints of the actors:
“Watching Autumn In New York made me realise how long it’s been since anyone made a really good movie about a doomed hat-maker.”
“Still, for all its failings, Autumn In New York has many compensating virtues. For one, it brings together two of the greatest squinters in the history of motion pictures. Gere, who has squinted his way through films like Pretty Woman and An Officer And A Gentleman, seamlessly meshes his trademark facial tic with his equally captivating smile. But Ryder is more than up to the challenge, effortlessly interspersing girlish squints with perky eye-rolling and a barrage of barely audible giggles. Not since Helen Hunt faced off against Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets has the cinema seen such a masterful display of lower forehead duelling. My hat’s off to both of them.”
“Nowadays when audiences sense that a movie as shameless as ‘Autumn in New York’ intends to ennoble them with tears and redemption, only the most diehard sentimentalists will fail to smell a rat.”
“Much is made of the fact that Will is twice Charlotte’s age. He’s (gasp!) 48 to her 22, something that is repeatedly pounded home… But such is the movie’s prim sense of propriety that the screenplay goes out of its way to let us know that Will never actually had sex with the woman.”
“Richard Gere’s phoniest acting tic has to be the way that he tosses back his head and laughs, in ‘spontaneous’ delight, at his romantic costar. In the tastefully embarrassing ‘Autumn in New York,’ Gere once again plays a selfish sleazo who learns to embrace love over vanity. This time he’s a celebrity chef, and Winona Ryder, who will probably be acting like a coy and girlish debutante when she’s 80, is the poem spouting, funky hat making princess who cures him of his womanizing ways when it turns out that she’s suffering from Old Movie Disease (oops, I mean a heart tumor).”
“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.”
“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.”
“‘Autumn in New York'” is not a bad picture, just utterly banal. Desperately eager to register as a love affair in the mold of Hollywood’s classics…”
“The dates, which are not particularly erotic due to routine staging and also weak chemistry between Gere and Ryder, serve mostly as platforms to propagate differing philosophies and intergenerational clashes. ‘I’m too old for you,’ Will says, time and again, to which Charlotte replies, ‘I specialize in antiques.’ The dialogue seldom goes beyond this level of ‘edginess’ and ‘sophistication.'”
“Thirty years ago, the preppie romance, ‘Love Story’ was considered to be too simplistic and cute — ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’ But that 1970 sleeper at least acknowledged its lovers’ class differences (rich kid-rebel falls for a baker’s daughter), and its Harvard milieu was a bit more authentic than this pic’s.”
“This formulaically mawkish disease-of-the-week movie, dressed up as worthy weepy, says more about the curious career patterns of stars Gere and Ryder than it ever could about the power of love or the tragedy of illness.”
“…[O]ne of the least convincing screen couplings in recent history.”
“By the halfway mark you’ll be desperate for Ryder to end her misery and yours.”
“Everyone in the film can see that pairing a 48-year-old womanizer with a 22-year-old girl dying from a sketchy illness ‘of the heart’ is lame, not to mention derivative, unpleasant, and pathetic. But there it is, on the big screen in all its golden-light-suffused splendor.”
“But in this movie, Dolly’s concern that maybe Will shouldn’t be dating the girl who could have been his daughter (if he’d ever slept with her mother, which, everyone insists and contrary to everything else we know about him, he did not) is cast aside as square or unromantic or even mean-spirited, since she’s a bitter alcoholic who’s long since lost her wealth and good looks.”
“Most of her dialogue is less direct, though, more cloying and cryptic (usually wolfish Will suggests they not kiss the first time, and she tilts her head to one side, looks off into the distance, and says, ‘I can smell the rain…’ Come again?) She fancies Emily Dickinson, and quotes her a lot, as if to educate her loutish lover (‘Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul’), and you know that by the end, he’s quoting Dickinson back at her, so profoundly mutated is he by Charlotte’s influence.”
“Each time she collapses, Charlotte winds up in a hospital (looking quite unbelievably lovely, I might add)… (Note that the doctor talks to Will, the boyfriend of two months, not Charlotte’s family or friends, or even Charlotte.)”
I dare you not to be intrigued by what piece of entertainment could inspire such mocking criticism from so many reviewers!
So, without further ado, here is an incredibly detailed gif recap of the film, complete with subtitle explanations, direct quotes, and explanations for the ridiculous.
We begin with Gere/Will, walking in the park with the girl-of-the-moment, who is chiding him for being an outrageous flirt. He responds that, hey, the lady looked super pregnant, so she should be glad that he even deigned to notice her! He actually says that he only flirted with her because she was pregnant and he wanted to make her day.
He’s like the Robin Hood of flirtation; stealing compliments from the sexy and giving them to the ugly! Soon, we learn the second most important thing about Gere’s character Will Keane (the first is that he is a flirt/ladies’ man/womanizer), he is a hot shot restaurant owner/chef!
Look, there he is. Proof. Incredibly, this magazine cover is mentioned twice more in pivotal moments as to why Winona/Charlotte, the love interest, goes to his restaurant, and, later, why his estranged daughter seeks him out after seeing his cover shot. So, Gere/Will is making his rounds and we meet his maitre d’ and confidant (Anthony LaPaglia) who makes lame sexist jokes, as well as wise and blunt observations. Take this actual conversation in which LaPaglia asks Gere/Will what happened to Lynn (the woman from the opening scenes), to which Gere/Will cryptically replies:
Making these use cake metaphors a lot at the restaurant (uh?) so LaPaglia continues, telling Gere/Will he needs to light up the oven because there’s a fresh bowl of batter at the door aka a new, young hottie who is waiting for Gere/Will.
Clue #2 that Gere/Will is a womanizer (they will later use this word approximately 20 times throughout the film) occurs as he winds his way through the crowded restaurant and, after ignoring his “fresh bowl of batter” at the door (even though we later learn that he invited her there), he hits on two young women, comping their drinks and otherwise behaving like a handsy creep.
Despite having just “baked that cake” of the former flame, and having a date waiting for him, and spending time with two young women on the patio… He still has the libido to be struck dumb by another hot young thing he spots across the room.
And there she is! The enchanting waif who has caught our rake’s eye! Look at her sparkle! She is brighter than the candles on her weirdass cake!
We are unsure what she is celebrating… but she exudes a childish sense of glee at life, which our old and grizzled womanizer hasn’t felt in decades. Oh, wait, the connection isn’t one-sided! Our ingenue has locked eyes on him, too!
Though to be fair, she can barely manage to keep her eyes up and forward; she must look anywhere but at the sexy silver fox who obviously trips her trigger.
Gere/Will finally makes his way to his date, who had been waiting for him for awhile at the bar, but he is interrupted by yet another woman from his past—
It’s an old crone with a dead bird on her head!! After a few awkward beats, he recognizers her from their night together decades ago. Yes, she’s Dolly! And she was the mother of a young woman he used to know! The film never explicitly states that they didn’t have sex Mrs. Robinson style, so I’m leaving it open as an option.
Now we briefly meet a few friends of Winona/Charlotte. There’s Kali Rocha (aka Halfrek the Vengeance Demon in the Buffyverse). And she has some pipe cleaners on her head! It appears to be some sort of weird hat or fascinator. In fact, almost everyone at the table is wearing fugly hats, except Winona/Charlotte—which is actually a clever mean-girl move on her part to make her friends look uglier than herself.
Before you can say “did we have sex back in the day?”, the old crone who calls herself Dolly appears at the table with Gere/Will in tow. As she drunkenly saunters over, it’s clear she is, in fact, a madame and is trying to sell these young women to Gere/Will.
No, wait, she’s just trying to sell Gere/Will some funky hats! Very clever, Dolly.
Aside from the hats, her main reason for bring him over to the table is to introduce him to her granddaughter—yes, the very same waif he had attempted to eye fuck earlier!
Gere/Will is momentarily nonplussed. Dolly’s granddaughter? So, Dolly’s daughter, Katie, who Gere/Will obviously knew when he was younger, had a daughter who is now here, celebrating her birthday (21?). Honestly, he is so shocked and kind of alarmed, you cannot help but instantly wonder if he is searching his mind, asking himself if he had sex with her mom a few decades ago.
This startling discovery seems to temper his lust, momentarily, but nothing could staunch the pheromones bouncing between the two of them. He leaves, and Winona/Charlotte starts interrogating her grandma/madame/Dolly… How in the world could her grandma know him!?!
Okay, all she said was that he knew her mother when they were teenagers. But, again, she didn’t not say that she never had sex with him herself. So, it’s still possible! I felt the spark! Dolly looks like a great time! Look at her rock that fugly bird hat that her deranged granddaughter made for her, and that pearl choker, and just lighting up like a badass!
Anyways, the next morning, Winona/Charlotte receives a call. After Gere/Will weirdly and kind of aggressively demands that she “guess” who it is, to which she finally replies, “you?” (because she didn’t know his name?) and he was like, yeah, “who else would it be?” (because she should recognize his voice already? because she should have known that he’d call after learning of her existence because he might be her father? because their eye contact was so incendiary that of course he’d call?)
Making sure to be as awkward as possible on her first phone call with a man, she immediately asks him if he’s calling to speak with her grandma, thus cluing us into the fact that she lives with her grandma and assumes any male caller would want her grandma rather than her (or perhaps because her grandma is the madame and she lives in a brothel?). But, no, he wants to talk to her! HER!
No, sorry, they don’t have phone sex. Though Winona’s/Charlotte’s body language and facial reactions while merely talking on the phone might lead you to believe that the conversation was either insanely exciting or sexual or insane. But, no, he is simply calling the only milliner he knows because he is in desperate need for a childish, homemade, custom hat! And he needs the hat for another woman! For a black-tie gala! Because, that makes sense! As any good milliner would do, she inquires about color (black or white) and theme. He’s stumped. Theme? Racking his brain, he said that her inspiration—for a hat—should be “the line of a woman’s hip.” Seriously. I didn’t make up that line!
This is incredibly suave and sexy-sounding to our young heroine! Before he hangs up, however, this old grump mansplains some conversation etiquette for her:
Gere/Will: “You say ‘wow’ an awful lot…” (She meekly confirms this grievous fault.)
Gere/Will: “When’s that gunna stop? You’re a grown-up now.”
Instead of telling him where he can shove it, she appears both grateful and turned on by this masterful, passive-aggressive closing line. Yes, she *is* a grown-up now. And he’s going show her how to be a grown-up (right after she crafts his imaginary date a hat from her leftover art supplies).
Wow, indeed. On the afternoon of the gala, our intrepid milliner runs through a rainstorm. She is smartly decked out in a plastic rain coat, but, alas, forgot an umbrella. Luckily, she had a trash bag to use over her head. Arriving in his apartment, he continues his insulting compliments by chiding her for being late, but then assuring her it was okay, because “what’s the point of being young and beautiful if not to keep men waiting?” After being assured that her shitty manners are not important because she is young and beautiful, she opens the trash bag to reveal her creation. At first, I was frightened because it looked like a giant spider. It looks less menacing and more dopey when she models it for him (at his insistence).
Despite the rather insane design that looks like a joke, he maintains his facade that he is charmed by her. Maybe he really is?! But, soon, tragedy strikes. He tells her that it doesn’t matter, anyways, because he’s not attending the event anymore after his date cancelled on him! What’s a guy to do?!?! Wait, no, would she…would she want to go with him?! She doesn’t have anything to wear? No problem! He loves buying
prostitutes dates expensive dresses to wear to high-class functions with him.
“Even though she has already agreed to go with him, he wants reassurances and compliments. He weakly protests, “You think I’m too old for you,” to which she blithely assures him that it’s nbd because she collects antiques! And has sexual feelings toward said antiques!
So, she runs home for her Cinderella/Pretty Woman moment, getting dressed in the ugly dress he has picked out for her.
She continues her charm campaign by insisting that she sit in the front of the town car with the chauffeur rather than in the back with him. She’s obviously down-to-earth and different from other women who would sit in the back (or she’s scared of him).
I guess the dress itself is not that offensive, though it looks kind of cheap and the top doesn’t seem to fit her chest, but the most atrocious thing is the futuristic-looking shawl apparently made of plastic disks and string? I don’t know. It kind of looked like something Amber from Clueless would wear, or perhaps Zenon?
He thinks she looks amazing, of course, because he is primarily turned on by buying dresses and having women wear them for him.
They start to dance and converse uncomfortably. She confesses that she chose his restaurant because of that article about him, to which he seems shocked, despite that being the point of an article like that? He unconvincingly says that the whole thing was embarrassing, but we can see through it. They soon move on to the only thing they have in common—her parents!
He actually says: “Man, you don’t dance, you float.” Winona/Charlotte agrees, explaining that “It’s from my dad. I used to stand on his feet… I was floating.” If that doesn’t instantly make them feel like they’re sharing their own father-daughter dance, then I don’t know what will. Oh, wait, maybe talking about her mom will!
Winona/Charlotte: “My mom was a great dancer, too,. But you already knew that.”
Gere/Will: “We danced a couple of times, yeah.” [Is “dance” code for “had sex”? Tangoed in the sheets?]
Winona/Charlotte: “And now you’re dancing with me, how weird is that?”
Good question! How weird is it? Super weird! Look, this woman seems to find it weird!? She’s staring intently at them from across the room! Who could she be?? She seems like another ex-lover or future-lover, amiright?! Later (much later), we learn that she is Gere’s/Will’s estranged daughter that he has *never* met. This is a pretty intense B-Plot that doesn’t get enough attention, in my opinion. Like, it crops up a few times, is pretty vague, and then all of a sudden, the issue is solved and they have a wonderful relationship and he is a doting father and grandfather. More on this discrepancy later.
Our couple leaves the gala to walk a bit and perhaps engage in a little hanky panky.
Gere/Will continues to employ terrible flirtatious methods by insulting the majority of women only to compliment Winona/Charlotte for being different than them—she is “completely unprecedented and therefore unpredictable.” Winona/Charlotte readily agrees with this, which I applaud. Self-confidence is wonderful!
But then she ruins the moment by asserting that her yoga teacher calls her “a unique,” as if it were a noun and not an adjective. Yes. She is a very special snowflake—all of her teachers say so! She tries to make a move on him and get him to kiss her… but he demurs. Perhaps he likes his women less willing? Rather than acknowledge his faint refusal, she segues in a bizarre manner by observing that she “can smell the rain,” before musing, “when did I learn how to do that?” This, apparently, does the trick and Gere/Will is ready for that kiss!
I am totally going to steal that “rain” line and use it next time I sense a guy might not want to have sex with me! It worked for her!
The next morning, Gere/Will begins his obviously well-rehearsed morning-after speech, making sure to compliment her—“I could put this off but I genuinely like you”—while simultaneously letting her down—“We have no future.”
As soon as Gere/Will finally gets to the point—namely, that they have no future—Winona/Charlotte shocks him speechless by readily agreeing with him!! What, no hysterics from the little woman? But, no, it’s not that she’s just casual about her sex life, she has a dramatic reason for agreeing they have no future. You see, she’s sick.
Despite the fact that she must have discussed this life-long disease before, she seems unable to communicate in full sentences or with any detail, instead simply saying, “It’s my heart. Nobody…nobody even thought I’d last this long.” (Luckily, she points vaguely to her chest when explaining to him about her heart.)
Gere/Will struggles to deal with this news. Confiding in his friend/maitre d’, he explains what she said. “She’s the perfect woman: young, beautiful and on her way out,” wisecracks LaPaglia. Ouch. Harsh?
He gives conflicting advice to Gere/Will, first telling him that the whole thing is wrong (she’s too young, etc.), but then wondering if it might be okay because “Maybe it makes a sad girl happy and a desperate guy think.” I don’t know exactly what to say about that. Warning him off only seems to egg Gere/Will on, and we can guess where this is going. Let’s check in on our ailing patient! Ahh, yes, she is not only a milliner but an all-around master crafter. Look at her at work!
She appears to be making a giant mobile in her bedroom, filled with pictures of her dead bother and weird beaded figures. It might be kinda cool, but also just reminds me of something a baby would have in her room.
Ah, but our aging Romeo appears on a mission to woo the ailing heroine.
Grandma Dolly does not appear pleased by this. All of a sudden, she seems more “Miss Hannigan” than proud grandma.
[In the original screenplay, Dolly gets this kind of hilarious and cynical line: “First time you came to pick up Katie, you brought me flowers. Just like those. Flower the mother; then deflower the daughter. But Katie was too smart for you…” I mean, Flower the mother, Deflower the daughter is a hilarious thing to say. Is it, like, a thing people say? Because they should. Anyways. I suppose Grandma Dolly saying that Winona/Charlotte is “gildin’ the lily” is a nice phrase… but it would have been even better with the flower/deflower comment, as well.]
After some tense chit-chat during which Grandma Dolly/Miss Hannigan says various gauche and offensive things, like, “One day you’re rich as an Arab. The next you’re lucky if you can afford pistachio nuts.” After they reminisce about Dolly’s dead daughter (and Winona/Charlotte’s dead mother), Grandma Dolly firmly warns him away from her. Again, oddly, the main concern is the fact that “She’s sick. Really sick.” and not that he obviously had a relationship with her mother. I feel like everyone is missing the point?
Perhaps overcompensating for any awkwardness, Winona/Charlotte attempts to cajole Gere/Will out of his mood by saying that he needs to “look at the bright side” because if she “wasn’t sick, this would not work.” At least she seems to know the score, ’cause she’s not wrong.
Then they share this unfortunate exchange that would best be saved for some bed room role-playing with consenting adults after confirming a mutual kink.
Yes, they move right from joking about how her disease is the motivation for their date (“In a year or so I’d just be this sob story you could use to bag more chicks!”) and immediately joke about age differences, or are they joking about the fact that he might literally have had sex with her mom. The date is off to a great start!
[To be fair, a similar exchange in the original screenplay is a little more cutting: “Our friends would say we were just into each other for weird psychological reasons. You know, because I’m looking for a daddy substitute and you’re looking for someone you can feel superior to so you won’t have to confront how scared you are of real intimacy—and, of course, they’d be right and eventually we’d break up… But since I’m so sick it doesn’t really matter what deep-seated weirdness has brought us together because there’s no way we can possibly screw each other over, or up, because that takes time.” I mean, it hits the same notes and it still awkward, but it’s also more insightful and cynical, in my opinion. Screenplay Charlotte is much more cynical. She still acts the same, and is quirky, but at least acknowledges what is happening.]
We soon learn that Winona/Charlotte/Jo March loves poetry. This should be fun!
But what should they do on their awkward day-time date? He suggests a norman activity, like getting coffee! Aghast, Winona/Charlotte/Jo exclaims “Don’t abandon the universe and me! Let’s not do no thoughtless thing.” If someone told me I couldn’t get a fucking coffee because it’d be an insult to the universe, I’d tell the universe to go to hell. Naturally, if he’s the buttoned-up man, wanting to be inside and drink coffee, and concerned about the time, then she must be the opposite. Thus, she takes his wrist watch from him! Pre-cell phone days, this would obviously be pretty annoying. I mean, the dude has a job (well, sort of).
When he asks reasonably when he will get the watch back, she says that he’ll get it back when he forgets she has it. I do believe this is the first of many “lessons” our dying young woman will teach our disreputable soon-to-be-reformed gentleman. Remember, audience, a woman (especially a dying/injured/young/smart/sexy woman) exists to change a man. They appear to be dating for real now. Look, there she is at his restaurant, despite the fact that the restaurant isn’t even open! She’s officially an insider. This gives them more opportunities for him to reminisce about her mother, and her to gaze adoringly at him. Also, we see some uninspiring food preparation shots.
Winona/Charlotte is at home with the plebs who work for Gere/Will as they break bread together and cheers “To Charlotte!” together. Gere/Will looks on smugly, as though he’s given her the gift of adult friends. BTW: Where have her former friends gone? The Vengeance Demon and her GBF? Apparently Winona/Charlotte is the worst kind of female friend who disappears when she is dating someone. How annoying! I mean, I bet her friends have really been there for her as she dealt with the trials and tribulations of her mysterious heart disease and then she just blows them off during what will undoubtedly be her final months of life.
We see them goofing off at home. And then we witness Winona’s/Charlotte’s first “episode”!
Naturally, and against all common sense and good medical practice, this leads to Gere/Will speaking one-on-one with Winona’s/Charlotte’s doctor. Yes, people, this happens. In a movie released in 2000. Men gotta take care of women! Even if they aren’t related! And she isn’t a minor! And they only just started dating! Etc.
Our unfortunately dressed and coiffed doctor tells him that there’s really nothing they can do, she will get worse and die, etc. Gere/Will vows to
have sex with her until she dies continue dating her. As this is Autumn, in New York, they prepare for a Halloween party! Unfortunately, the timing of this costume party coincides with a disturbing letter (that we can’t read) from the woman we briefly met at the gala. The letter upsets him and is a harbinger of the movie’s requisite fight scene. Here is the actual conversation that occurs regarding Winona/Charlotte’s costume:
Yes, our quirky, poetry-loving, dying, young woman is going to a halloween party dressed as Emily Dickinson. To hit us over the head with their differences, Gere/Will, an “uncultured swine” according to Winona/Charlotte, admits that he’s “a food guy” and tells her to ask him about food. She complies, asking him what it is about the food that makes him a food guy. (They say “food guy” too many times.) He ponders this—like he hasn’t used this exact line on a million other women—and says, “Food…Food is the only beautiful thing that truly nourishes.” Floored by that panty-dropping line, Winona/Charlotte is stunned by his insight and asks him, “Is that a quote?” He smiles condescendingly at her, saying, “That’s me.” Ew. The whole thing is just smarmy.
To continue with the smarminess, Gere/Will is dressed as a giant puppy. I find this costume disturbing.
The second that Winona/Charlotte/Emily Dickinson enters the party, she asks about the host’s children, like she is a long lost aunt, or godmother, or has known the kids longer than a few weeks. Her immediate desire to find the children, coupled with her costume, makes me think she wants to find the children and eat them. Literally. Like a witch. Maybe they’ll heal her disease? Anyways, Winona/Charlotte should know better than to leave that “dog” Gere/Will alone at a party. He’s a DOG. Get it?!??
Stupid costume notwithstanding, Gere’s/Will’s masculine charisma and low morals will undoubtedly lead him to trouble at this party. And where’s his girlfriend? Ah, yes, preparing the delicious children for
the oven bedtime.
The movie wants us to remember, lest we ever forget, that our young heroine is nice and interesting and wise and cultured and still childlike.
Honestly, it gets even crazier from here, particularly for anyone who has ever tried to prepare young children for bed. THIS. WOULD. NEVER. WORK.
One more story, the kids squeal! She consents! Does she big up the nearby Babar book? Dr. Seuss? Hungry Little Caterpillar? No, no, no. Emily Dickinson doesn’t read children’s books to kids, you uncultured swines! She quotes poetry and tries to turn it into a story, complete with finger puppets! Yes, SHE QUOTES AN EMILY DICKINSON POEM TO YOUNG CHILDREN AS A BEDTIME STORY. I don’t know whether to slow clap her audacity, mourn “kids today” (who I imagine would never tolerate this kind of behavior and would probably ignore her and watch their a show on their iPad) or “adults today” (who tolerate this behavior from kids and don’t want to take the time to memorize Dickinson and then recite Dickinson to their kids at night).
Yes, she recites Dickinson’s “Two Butterflies Went Out at Noon,” which (for all you uncultured swine) goes something like this:
Two butterflies went out at noon / And waltzed above a stream / Then stepped straight through the firmament / And rested on a beam
And then together bore away / Upon a shining Sea / Though never yet, in any Port / Their coming mentioned be
If spoken by the distant Bird / If met in Ether Sea / By Frigate, or by Merchantman / No notice was to me
She leaves off the final stanza (boo!) but I don’t think it would have made this poem-cum-bedtime-story any better. I mean, do these children even understand all the words? Firmament? I’m pretty sure not all adults could define that. Anyways. I couldn’t ignore this insane scene.
And what has our Dog been up to while his girlfriend was was being insane upstairs with the kids? Hmm…. Guesses, anyone? The hosts appear to be cleaning up already. Has she been missing for the entire party???
Hmm. He might be upstairs? Oh, here he is, in the attic, returning from the roof with that slut Audrey Hepburn AKA the “baked cake” according to Gere/Will AKA the woman he strolled with during the opening scenes.
In the car on the way home, Winona/Charlotte is suspicious. She tells him, “There’s something about being sick…in my heart… And it’s like I can feel every beat… I’ll know if you’re lying… Oh, god.”
Why did Gere/Will/Dog cheat on her, while she was attending the same party? He actually says, “Because nothing stopped me.” (We all know he was thinking it was because of the costume, though.)
He cannot believe that she is freaking out that he had sex on the roof while she was boring some children with poetry one floor down! She is so “juvenile” for being upset! Luckily, he sees this as a sign: “You’re a kid. I’m a creep. You have better thing to do with your last… with your time… than spend it with a man like me.” Gotta love it.
She returns home to Grandma Dolly/Miss Hannigan with tear-stained cheeks, and our wizened and drunk old crone is not surprised by this turn of events.
And, then, seemingly WAY TOO LATE, Grandma Dolly tells Winona/Charlotte what happened between her mother and Gere/Will back in the day. Her assurance here that Winona’s/Charlotte’s mother never slept with Gere/Will is just odd and not convincing. Like, how do you know, old woman?! Maybe her daughter never told you. Also, is that the only issue here?!
But, basically, Winona’s/Charlotte’s mother was friends with Gere/Will but also secretly in love with him. She finally confessed her feelings (though she never slept with him) and he freaked out and immediately hooked up with her tennis doubles partner! And got her pregnant! (A-ha! This must be related to that random B-Plot about the estranged daughter.) So, this seems to be a pattern for him—when confronted with emotional women who want something from him, he engineers a betrayal to ensure that the woman leaves him.
Winona/Charlotte rightly asks why her Grandma didn’t offer more of a warning, to which Grandma Dolly has no real answer other than to say, like, people need to make mistakes, and who am I to offer advice?
We cut to scenes of Gere/Will looking sad, but trying to act like it’s no big deal that he broke up with Winona/Charlotte.
This is actually how he says it to his friend—“I guess I had sex with Lynn McHale up on your roof, okay?” I guess? I guess. Meanwhile…
Winona/Charlotte is all alone at a strange bar and possible opium den. Poor girl has no friends left after she was such a shitty friend to them and ignored them the past few weeks. Ugh. WEAK FEMALE FRIENDSHIP. Though, to be fair, the original screenplay (yes, I read all of it; I am obsessed) was better and more realistic here. In the original screenplay, Winona/Charlotte doesn’t ditch her friends!! In fact, her friends pop up here and there while she is dating! And thus they are there for her during the break-up! In fact, her girl bff and her gay bff take her out to a bar and she flirts with a new guy! And maybe hooks up with him! Screenplay Charlotte is 100x better than movie Charlotte. Insert sad-face-in-a-fishbowl.
Oh, look, it’s the return of the “B-Plot”!
Basically: here’s another woman who serves primarily to force the man to evolve somewhat. In this case, her attempts to reach him have messed with his head but also perhaps spurred him to reconnect with his ailing muse Winona/Charlotte. He waits for her in her giant bedroom (slash millinery and bead workshop).
I’m so grossed out by Gere’s/Will’s character by this point, and his muttering “Can you let me love you?” continues to rub me the wrong way. Just, ew. Like, dude, love her from afar if that’s all that matters. It’s more like, “Can you let me back into your life so that you can continue to make positive changes in my life by teaching me about emotions, poetry, life, and death?” Finally, she simply says she’s “so tired” and collapses in his arms. Congrats old man! You’ve successfully worn out a sick young woman!
[Again, picking up with the original screenplay, or what could have been, Screenplay Charlotte doesn’t just welcome Screenplay Will back in her vagina without giving him shit. When he wants to find out where she’d been, and who she’d been with, and if she had sex with some other guy while they were broken up, she basically tells him he has no right to know anything about what she did, especially after what he’s done. Despite being back together, their arguments and tension persist. Finally, Screenplay Charlotte says: “Never ask me again what happened with him. Just accept the fact that you’ll never, ever know. And if that hurts, then think about it next time you want to cheat on somebody.” I don’t know, I liked this version. Yes, she’s focused on revenge, though ultimately gets back together with him right away, but still, she stands up for herself more.]
So, to recap Autumn thus far: Starts out good with a gala in, let’s say, September. They date through October. Halloween is their downfall. November appears to be a shit month. They reunite by December, just in time for the winter holidays!
They go skating and do cute relationship things. As Winona/Charlotte is wont to do, she collapses while ice-skating.
After being rushed to the hospital, Gere/Will continues to harass the doctor. Her grandmother and friends are nowhere in sight. Luckily, she reunited with her older lover just in time for another hospital trip! Otherwise she’d be all alone… ?
Gere/Will is still “all in” with Winona/Charlotte, but he’s also stressed AF. After the hospital trip, he’s out walking the streets and sees a window display for baby clothes. He pauses and wonders if any of these outfits would fit his wee little girlfriend. Or, it reminds him of his estranged pregnant daughter.
He immediately heads to his daughter’s apartment. Hey, Vera! You are a nicer person than most for letting your shitty ass absentee father into your home without warning.
While there, selfish lout Gere/Will talks primarily about himself and his dying girlfriend, forcing his captive audience (which includes his daughter and us) to listen to him complain. He *finally* pauses and reflects that maybe this isn’t fair of him. He makes another effort at an apology to her, this time a little bit more heartfelt, for *never* being there for her (despite the fact that he knew of her existence). She offers to help him find a surgeon willing to operate on Winona/Charlotte. Because, as she says, she’s “a researcher” and “can find anyone,” because, hey, she “found” her dad—whose face was on a magazine—didn’t she? I love this claim of hers! She is a brilliant researcher when it comes to local celebrities, estranged fathers, and surgeons! Well, she succeeds! She’s a researcher! Did we expect anything less??
There’s an amazing and ballsy surgeon in Ohio that is the only one willing to try this experimental surgery on Winona/Charlotte.
He tells Gere/Will that the next time Charlotte has an episode and passes out, he should call him and he will fly to New York and perform the surgery right away. Remember, Winona/Charlotte KNOWS NOTHING about this plan at this point.
R. U. Kidding. Me.
She finally learns of all of this behavior and is upset; she had told him repeatedly that she didn’t want to endure any more “false hopes” and last-ditch efforts to find a cure. She’s been through all of that before! This is pretty reasonable. He finally urges her to have hope and fight for a longer life—for him. Gere/Will wants her to do all of this for him, of course.
She concedes. Then they share a joke—a joke—about how he had been prepared to forge her signature and change her end-of-life medical care plans. By this point, I am flabbergasted.
She, however, is merely amused and thankful that someone loves her that much. This makes me sad. Meanwhile, Gere/Will is decking out a Christmas tree and preparing a little holiday surprise for Winona/Charlotte, when he turns around and—Oh, Shit!—she’s down for the count. Again.
He calls in his expert surgeon from Ohio who reads charts with a flashlight while in a helicopter. I have a bad feeling about this…
As he rushes to her side—ugh, I can barely write about it because I can’t believe her grandma and friends don’t get to see her—he obviously proves how much he’s changed by quoting poetry to her for the first time. Wow! She taught him more than one thing! In fact, their last exchange confirms who this story is really about:
He thinks she ruined him for other women? Nah, she assures him, “I saved you for other women.”
Yes, Dying Girl’s primary role is that she saved him and he will be a better man in the future. I can’t see what he’s done for her? Except get a free hat from her, have sex with her, distance her from her loved ones, force her to make different end-of-life medical plans, and otherwise dominate her last autumn (in NY).
Grandma Dolly, formerly Miss Hannigan, but now just a broken old woman who has suffered the death of her daughter, and now her granddaughter, is the only thing that made me truly feel any sorrow in the entire movie. (If only she wasn’t dressed as Inspector Gadget, which threatens to remove me from the solemnity of the scene.)
Returning home to the aborted Christmas celebration, he finds her gift for him. It’s his watch. At least there’s one good thing about her death! He can get his effing watch back! He won’t be late to work tomorrow!
She’s dead. Whatever. Moving on to happier things!
And there you have it! Autumn is over, the girl is dead, but Gere/Will is a better man! All is right with the world.