They don't make 'em like they used to, and Autumn in New York proves that maybe it's time to stop trying. A lachrymose romantic drama about a middle-aged Manhattan playboy (Gere) who falls for a fatally ill young woman (Ryder), this movie is a throwback to the melodramatic tearjerkers once regularly churned out by Hollywood. In those films, sickly heroines (played by the likes of Bette Davis in Dark Victory, Margaret Sullavan in Three Comrades or, more recently, Ali MacGraw in Love Story) grew ever more beautiful right up until they expired. But that was before disease-of-the-week TV movies (not to mention documentaries about AIDS and cancer) made it real clear that death be not proud—and it isn't very pretty either. Yet pretty is exactly what the glossy Autumn tries to make it.
Ryder's character, a perky 22-year-old named Charlotte who quotes Emily Dickinson and designs kooky hats, tells Gere's 48-year-old restaurateur early on that she's a goner thanks to a tumor encroaching on her heart. Taking the noble path, he decides—after a few missteps—to stay and becomes the better man for it. The film, though, becomes worse.
As Autumn progresses, moving from one glamorous locale to the next, hokey plot complications (a last-ditch operation could save Charlotte) pile up and the movie grows ever lamer. Director Joan Chen (Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl) shows Manhattan to its best advantage, but she cannot disguise the puniness of Autumn's story or the sad fact that Gere and Ryder, who have both been better elsewhere, lack the chemistry to save it. (PG-13)