June 21, 2009

Whatever Works (06/21/09)

Lettergrade: C-

I enjoyed Whatever Works, but will attach the comments that I have about most Woody Allen movies... First among them that it's a little unfocused, and rambly, and I somewhat suspect that Woody decided to film his first draft of the script rather than do another pass and make everything a bit tighter.

The big draw for me with this one is that Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David fills the lead role, which, in Allen movies, is typically seen as the surrogate for the director himself. This part was originally written with the late Zero Mostel in mind, apparently, and David's performance comes off as something of a mix between that actor and Allen.

David plays a brilliant former academic who lives in Brooklyn, hating and complaining about the rest of the world. His life is slowly changed when he takes in a naive southern runaway played by Evan Rachel Wood. Naturally, they clash wildly at first in a way that would make Oscar and Felix proud, but then a kind of messed up, dysfunctional love ensues that could only happen when Woody Allen is involved. Eventually, Wood's parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.) arrive in New York looking for her and all sorts of relationship drama and sexual craziness erupts.

This movie is pure, pure farce. I'm not the world's biggest Woody Allen fan, and as such I'd describe the movie as pleasant, but nothing terribly special or memorable. Allen's movies seem to be trending toward more broad and crowd-pleasin' lately (not counting Match Point and Cassandra's Dream), and as has been standard for Allen movies for while now, very few of the characters in Whatever Works feel like they come from a real place: They're mostly derived from caricatures and stereotypes and templates set up by other movies. By that standard, if you like his recent work, you probably won't have much of a problem with this either.

Woody, at 73, still writes and directs one flick a year. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're not, but there's no mistaking that he made them. The movies are inexpensive enough that they almost always turn a profit, meaning that he can pretty much go on making them as long as he wants to. Some of his pictures, like last year's Vicky Christina Barcelona, just kind of go on and on, and then suddenly end without much notice or fanfare. Whatever Works does that too, and it is in that spirit that I'll do the same with this review.

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