Bowl of Mush 

Autumn in New York (PG-13)

In the past few months of feeding a pre-dentulous baby, I've learned a lot about pablum. For you non-reproductive types, pablum is a generic name for the many varieties of baby mush that we force our kids to eat before they get the real thing. It is sloppy and bland and harmless, and while it is fine for a little while, you wouldn't want to live off the stuff. But, having an acquaintance with pablum will help to make viewing Autumn in New York a more familiar experience.

This May-December romance pairs up the still, gorgeous Richard Gere, as a womanizing, aging restaurateur, with the winsome Winona Ryder, a youthful artiste suffering from a serious heart ailment. Much is made of his advanced age (48), and her youth (22), and of his acquaintance with her mother who died in an accident some years before. Her illness gives her only a few months to live, and she has refused heroic surgery so as not to hold out too much hope. He gives her a few last laughs; she opens up his chilly heart.

There's plenty to enjoy in Autumn in New York. If you've spent any time in the city, you can play "name the landmark," with lots of outdoor scenes from Rockefeller Center to Battery Park, East side to West. Richard Gere is a very appealing leading man and probably will be through his final role as a nursing home Romeo. Ryder does the best she can with a silly role that mostly involves being quixotic and making goofy hats. The production values are quite appealing, and there are even some neat cinematic tricks that keep your eyes engaged.

In some ways, though, the very prettiness of the film is its most annoying feature. The last I checked, love, eating, sex, and dying were all quite messy endeavors, but Autumn in New York makes them appear like orderly activities that require no post- amorous, digestive, coital or mortem cleanup. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a tidy little film, but it manages to take most of the interest out of what otherwise would be compelling subject matter.

So, open up, take out your teeth, and spoon in the baby food. It won't hurt you one bit, and it will tide you over until some real cinematic nourishment comes along.


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