Friday, July 17, 2009


Ever since 2000’s Curse Of The Jade Scorpion it feels as though director/writer Woody Allen has been in busy mode. The films he’s made since then is tantamount to your Grandfather deciding to put an addition on the house or rebuild a sailboat from scratch. The movies Allen is putting out aren’t bad but they always feel rushed and they lack the emotional center, smart dialog and breezy plots that made his older work so brilliant. It seems these days he’s just making movies to make them.

In that vein comes Whatever Works an unpleasant rarely funny movie about the world’s ultimate curmudgeon whose life is turned upside down by the arrival in his life of a beautiful young woman. The film was originally written in 1977 with Zero Mostel playing curmudgeon Boris Yelnikoff but got shelved after the actor’s death. The script was dusted off and reformatted for Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David. It also marks Allen’s return to New York City after a four-film sojourn in Europe. It also marks the continued idea that Allen is OK settling into mediocrity for the remainder of his career.

Whatever Works suffers from four serious problems not the least of which is Larry David himself. I suppose when David breaks the fourth wall and tell the audience he’s not a “likable guy” we’re supposed to use that as the grain of salt by which to measure his actions throughout the movie. The problem is that doing that is too easy and allows Allen to go crazy writing David’s character as a completely unbearable windbag who insults people for no real reason. David’s delivery is so unpleasant as an actor that by the end of the film you feel nothing at all for his character except contempt or worse indifference.

With a lead you can’t stand it then falls to the supporting cast to try and make the film more than just average. Sadly Allen has written them all as such two-dimensional characters that they couldn’t support a house of cards. Nobody here serves any purpose except to give David’s character somebody to abuse or to try to push a scene along and get to the next one. Evan Rachel Wood plays Melodie St. Ann Celestine, the young runaway who David discovers outside of his apartment and eventually invites to stay with him. She’s supposed to be the light to his darkness or the ying to his yang but instead she just ends up as eye candy. You also never believe for one minute she would be attracted to him.

Even the usually wonderful Patricia Clarkson is given so little to work with she can barely make her part in the film watchable. It’s actually a testament to how wonderful an actress Clarkson is that she is able to breathe life into such a mediocre part. One of the reasons that the characters don’t work is the third problem with the film: exposition. For some reason the amount of exposition in every bit of dialog makes you feel like Allen doesn’t even really want to be shooting this movie or that it’s cutting into his Jazz Band time. The plot doesn’t unfold so much as it’s dictated to you through mercilessly long voice overs or monologues.

The fourth problem is the resolution of the film which is so out of left field that you keep waiting for it to be a dream sequence. Again it feeds into the feeling that Woody Allen is no longer interested in making movies but has no idea what else to do with himself. The plot of this movie never finds its voice and lacks any real direction feeling more like just a bunch of scenes of people talking. Allen introduces characters then sticks them with ridiculous developments, which totally counter everything they were ten minutes before. I’m all for a character starting at one point and ending at a completely different place but it should be over the course of the movie. Whatever Works does it in two minutes of voice over and we’re just supposed to accept it. The worst is poor Ed Begley JR who is seriously shafted in how his character ends up.

I consider myself a Woody Allen fan and I was excited as hell to see Whatever Works. I even tried to ignore these glaring issues and pretend I was enjoying myself but in the end I had to be honest. Whatever Works is a pale and amusing derivative of what once stood as Woody Allen’s genius filmmaking. It’s a rental at best, a skip at worst and for those of us who paid to see it a lost afternoon. I hope Allen gives up film making before this string of busy work movies ruin his impressive legacy.

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