Saturday, August 22, 2009


I’ve never seen a Woody Allen movie that didn’t have something I liked about it. He’s one of those few artists whose every work I want to check out and am always surprised and often delighted by what I find there.

WHATEVER WORKS is supposed to be an old script of his from the 1970s that didn’t get made until now. It stars Larry David of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM fame as Boris Yellnikoff (a little Woody joke there), an ex-physics professor with a very sour take on life (and the usual Woody quirks that many of Allen’s leading characters in his comedies share with him).

You’ve probably heard that it’s about an older man (Yellnikoff) and a young woman, Evan Rachel Wood (as Melodie St. Ann Celestine, another Woody joke), and that may bring up a response I’ve seen in a lot of my women friends and even some men, that many of Woody’s movies are about older men and younger women and since the whole Soon Yi drama these friends interpret Allen’s movies as apologias or justifications for his behavior in his private life.

But of course if this was written before that whole private scenario, that discounts that motive. But it may have always been his “problem” (thus MANHATTAN et. al.). But that too doesn’t hold water, because in the long run there are more Woody Allen movies about romances between men and women of the same generation than there are cross generation romances.

It’s a false issue as far as Woody’s art is concerned, though you’re entitled to your private opinions about his private life. But in fact WHATEVER WORKS is about a lot of unconventional relationships (as was VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA, one of Allen’s masterpieces for my taste). In fact that’s the point, and a good one that he makes so well with the final soliloquy of the film it brought tears to my eyes and to the friend I saw it with who is one of those friends who has had a hard time with Allen’s flicks since the whole Soon Yi business.

As someone who has lived a varied life full of all kinds of relationships, conventional and not even close, the movie rang true to me in its deeper perspective on not just the chance element of love but the inability of most of us to choose what “on paper” looks like the perfect match. (One of his recent darker themed movies, MATCH POINT, not only makes that, well, point in the film but the title telegraphs it, something I didn’t see any reviewer take note of.)

Allen has always altered various themes and approaches to telling a story, including the classic notions of comedy and tragedy, but it’s been a while since he made the kind of flat out comic masterpiece WHATEVER WORKS is for me. Even just to see it for the one-liners is worth it, let alone the actual story, which is so inventively unique, it’s like he challenged himself to make a boy meets girl story that overturned every cliché in that ancient plotline and still rang all the appropriate bells and blew all the satisfying whistles of the basic romantic comedy story.

And the casting couldn’t have been better. I’m not as crazy about CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM as a lot of my family and friends. I find Larry David a little too predictably annoying at times. But even though he plays a pretty obnoxious character in WHATEVER WORKS, Allen has written the character so well, I almost immediately was sucked into caring about him and his Allenesque existential despair.

In some of Allen’s earlier movies, the casting sometimes was off for my taste, but in recent years it has been impeccable, and WHATEVER WORKS is no exception. Evan Rachel Wood knocked me out in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and does an even more incredible job in WHATEVER WORKS. Her character could have been a comic cliché, but she plays it so well she not only made me laugh with almost every gesture and line, but she made me care in a way a lot of recent comedies haven’t.

Maybe that’s because the perspective is so adult. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Hollywood comedy that addressed issues I could relate to with my entire adult experience and not just my adolescent and early adulthood years. WHATEVER WORKS may have been written in the ‘70s originally (though a lot of the jokes have been updated and the rest still work perfectly, in fact I laughed more during this movie than I have at a film comedy in years and years), but it’s coming from the wisdom of a long life full of just as many doubts as certainties.

Not to even mention watching Patricia Clarkson kick acting butt with a character that transforms so radically most actors would have lost their way, or Ed Begley Jr. as her male counterpart (full disclosure, he’s a friend, but I’ve dug his underappreciated acting chops from long before we met and became friends).

Anyway, as you can see, I highly recommend this flick (though sometimes going into a movie with high expectations can ruin the experience, so just go to this flick looking for a small diversion from whatever’s troubling you these days, I think you’ll find at least a temporary antidote).

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