Whatever Works – Review


The decline of Woody Allen continues


Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com

Director: Woody Allen
Notable Cast:
Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Henry Cavill, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr.

Woody Allen was once in the handful of directors who could be considered the best example of American cinema. You could throw in Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (amongst others) into that mix of terrific auteurs that came out of the late 60s/early 70s that are still making films. Allen is the only one of the bunch who has declined significantly and profoundly over the last 20 years. And while Whatever Works may have been a script he wrote in the 1970s, it’s a further descent down the rabbit whole of awful that has summarized the back end of his career.

Boris (Larry David) was once a brilliant physicist in string theory who is finishing up a miserable existence teaching chess to children and being a generable misanthrope. Then teenage runaway Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) comes into his life. A homeless girl from Mississippi, she worms her way into his house for a meal and eventually his bed. Marrying her, he finds his life changing when another man enters the picture of his marriage and her parents find her. And in classic Allen fashion, its classic farce mixed with a unique take on the human condition.

And it has all the great setup for a classic Allen film, as he wrote it at his peak, but the execution is sloppier than normal for Allen. As the years have gone by he has gotten less crisp as a director; the joy in a film like Annie Hall is that the best jokes aren’t easily seen and don’t pander to a specific audience. The problem in a film like Whatever Works is that most of the humor is easy to see and isn’t funny to begin with. While Allen has updated the film for a more contemporary audience he hasn’t found the funny bone he lost so long ago. While normally one can separate a director and a writer, even when one man is doing both jobs, but with Allen his films come with him intrinsically inside the finished product.

It is interesting to see Larry David assuming the role that one imagines that Woody Allen would have once put himself in. Boris is a miserable old kook and it would be easy to see Allen in the part 20 years ago. David is about as funny as one can be in the part but he seems to be trying to ape his role in Curb Your Enthusiasm more often than not. It makes for a mixture of unfunny and hilarious moments, often in the same scene. It’s clearly not a part designed for him, as it’s tailored for the man Allen wanted originally for the part when he wrote the script in the 1970s (Zero Mostel), but David does the best he can with the part.

Allen may have come back to New York for the first time in years for a film, but the change of location from Europe to America doesn’t make his film anything better than his last several efforts.