' ' Cinema Romantico: Whatever Works

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Whatever Works

The lesson of Woody Allen's latest is that in order to get through the unyielding horror show that is life you have to do "whatever works". Something, anything, doesn't matter, so long as it helps your survival, ensures your sanity, whatever works. Well, after I returned home from "Whatever Works" I promptly placed "Manhattan" into the DVD player and re-watched the Gershwin-infused opening ode to the Woodman's favorite city to ensure my sanity. Whatever works, man, whatever works.

I mean, wow, was this movie a letdown. A lot of people have disliked most of Allen's work in the 00's but the only one I recall openly hating was "Melinda and Melinda". Until now. I just did not care for "Whatever Works". It certainly starts out nice - well, at least for me - with Larry David hollering directly into the camera about how "this isn't the movie feel good movie of the year" and disparaging us - the audience - for being "obsessed with any number of sad, little hopes and dreams" (guilty). Now this may not be everyone's pint of beer. Understood. But I'm someone who could listen to Larry David yell all day and never tire of it.

The problem is that once this monologue concludes Larry David is forced to act and, oh boy, is that ever a serious problem. The only acting David has really ever done is on his fantastic HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (or in bit parts on "Seinfeld" such as the mysterious "man in the cape") but on your "Curb Your Enthusiasm" David is improvising. Allen encouraged him to improvise in this movie but instead David rigorously attemped to memorize all his lines word for word and you know what? He sounds just like a guy reciting every line in the script word for word. His performance is so unnatural it gets almost excruciating at times.

He is Boris Yellnikoff, a self-proclaimed "genius" who nearly won a Nobel Prize for quantum mechanics and now spends his days ranting and raving on any number of topics, insulting everyone within a one foot radius and teaching "earthworms" how to play chess. "My child is smart," says one offended mother. "In your opinion," Boris declares, "in your opinion", which is one of the very few line readings David manages to make authentic.

Boris was once married, tried to commit suicide, failed, now walks with a limp and lives alone in a shabby apartment which is how he prefers it, until, of course, a southern belle runaway in the form of Evan Rachel Wood happens to turn up at his place begging for a place to stay.

Thank goodness for Evan Rachel Wood. She's a wonder and the movie would be a waste without her. Now make no mistake, Ms. Wood is playing an underwritten character - strike that! - a woefully underwritten character, like many of Allen's female characters, even in some of his better movies, yet despite her utter cluelessness and her need to be attracted to and then marry (!) a guy like Boris and then leave Boris for guy we know is terribly smarmy because he plays the "flute" which indicates the immense dislike Allen seems to have for this poor girl, Wood still makes her fairly charming.

And that leads us to the film's focal flaw - the screenplay. Woody wants his characters to do certain things and end up certain ways and in certain places but shows no imagination for making any of this happen. He just has it happen. There is no blood, sweat and tears in the journies of these characters.

The esteemed Roger Ebert tries to bail out Woody by writing "It might be complained that everything works out for everyone a little too neatly. So it does, because this is not a realistic story but a Moral Tale." No, no, no, you can't do that. It's a frickin' movie, Roger. I don't care one iota about whether or not it's a "realistic story" within the context of the so-called real world, I care about whether or not the screenplay cheats. And this screenplay has pine tar on the bat and vaseline in the glove and steroids swimming in its system. The plotting here is akin to the episode where George Costanza takes a nap at 10:30 in the morning. LAZY.

Forget it. I don't even want to talk about it anymore. I just want to put on "Bullets Over Broadway" and dream about the Chazz Palminteri character lecturing the real Woody Allen on how to write.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're right about one thing: this is definitely a bad review.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Yes! My inaugural anonymous insult! My compliments, sir! May they all be this clever and creative!