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I saw this movie in a packed cinema and the audience loved it to the
extent that many applauded at the end. So I came home, looked it up in
IMDb and read some of the review by professional film critics. What I
found helps to explain why nobody reads papers anymore and why
professional movie reviews are increasingly irrelevant. The critics
drooled all over themselves for No Country for Old Man -- a ridiculous
blood bath where the bad guy can see through walls, magically find
people on the run, and kill repeatedly without raising much more that a
mild interest from the local and state police. Yet many of these same
critics think the characters in this new Woody Allen film aren't
realistic. God save the film critics.
Back to the film. I can't remember the last time I laughed this hard at the movies, and I wasn't alone. It takes special talent to direct a movie that is so dependent on perfect comic timing to work, and the actors in this film hit their marks consistently. If there is character in this movie that shouldn't be the subject of study in an abnormal psychology class, I missed them.
If you care about intelligent movies for grown-ups, then you need to support movies like this one.
Woody Allen's alter ego, Boris (a bitterly good and sardonic Larry
David) makes this statement to the audience rather early on in
"Whatever Works". The truth is, no matter how misanthropic, sarcastic
and neurotic Woody Allen is, he ultimately is a pretty likable
personality...if you like that type. Allen's return to Manhattan after
three stays in London and a wonderful stop-over in Barcelona is yet
another niche film. Fans of Allen, as well as fans of Larry David's
"Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (which not so ironically should
be the same folks) will find plenty to laugh at here, while others will
inevitability whine, "I don't care for Woody Allen...and oh, that Larry
David! Can't stand him!"
The plot of "Whatever Works" is irrelevant. Boris is some sort of genius-level physicist trying to speed his way to death, though those metaphors are never explored as poignantly as they should be. It all just serves as a soap-box for Allen (through David) to funnel his usual dialogues about relationships, love, luck and the meaning of life. It's all very broad and obvious this time around, but it's sometimes nice to still be laughing at the same old feel-good shtick. It should come as no surprise that Boris also tells the audience this isn't a movie designed to make you feel good, unless you're Allen fans, and then you'll feel pretty swell afterward. Leave it to Allen to infer moviegoers are inherently morons, but we're sophisticates for watching his films.
Apparently this is a re-worked screenplay from the 1970's and the "Annie Hall" style monologues to the audience are evidence of that. In the jokes department you'll find old standards mocking the French and suggesting kids should attend "concentration camps" for the summer mixed with modern humor about the Taliban and Viagra. There's also one hilarious throw-away/blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to James Cameron's "The Abyss" that makes you wonder if perhaps the screenplay was first reworked in the 1980's before its final incarnation here.
In the casting department we find Patricia Clarkson, yet again, is a delight in her curiously under-written over-written role (which is far too simply complex to explain in a traditional review) and continues to build a case for herself to be declared this generation's "Best Supporting Actress" twenty years from now. Evan Rachel Wood is cute-as a-button (oh, as her character might declare, what a cliché) as a Southern cutie-pie who runs away to New York City and meets up with the suicidal Boris. Allen, as always, is luminous with his photography of the "young lady." And unlike the similarly dumb motor-mouthed funny-voiced Mira Sorvino character from "Mighty Aphrodite", Wood's character is actually given an arc here and proves not to be as shallow and moronic as Boris originally assessed, which indicates maybe Allen is growing just a teeny bit in his view on women...or maybe not.
Ultimately this is yet another testament to Allen's world-view, which is summed up here as do whatever works for you to trick yourself into believing you're happy in this miserable world. Sure, there are times when Boris' diatribes run a few lines too long, or when the film stops dead when he is not on screen, but for the most part, this is Allen doing what works best for him. No other director can call himself out on all his personal pratfalls and annoying quirks yet still find a way to endear himself to the faithful who are ever patient with him and his films. No other director can be so charmingly mean-spirited and self-deprecating yet still find a way to declare his alter ego a genius at picture's end. And that's why we've always liked you, Woody, for better and for worse. For what it's worth, when it comes to Allen's better and worse, "Whatever Works" falls happily in between and works just fine, thank you very much.
The critics have missed on this one. Don't believe the negative reviews. It's the funniest one from Woody since maybe Deconstructing Harry. Everything works. From the very original script, combining Allen's bleak view of life with effervescent farcical plot line, to uniformly fine performances from Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, and the rest of the cast. Comedic sparks fly non-stop. Not just light chuckles here and there at Woody's witticisms, but loud all-out laughter. The scenes with Ed Begley's and Patricia Clarkson's transformations of 'classic text-book right-wing material' are especially hilarious. And in the end I came out from the theater, thinking that in a paradoxical way it was one of the most life-affirming pictures from the master.
If ever a movie could be described as an allegorical rendition of a
director's life, Whatever Works just might top the list.
Marking Woody Allen's return to his native New York City after a four picture hiatus in Europe, the movie tells the story of Boris Yellnikoff, played by Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), the only actor working in Hollywood today who most closely approximates Allen himself in look, mannerisms, and philosophical outlook. Afflicted by numerous neuroses, Boris has become the ultimate pessimist, seeing life as one long water slide ride into an eventual cesspool. So bleak is his outlook that he becomes convinced that suicide is the only option, but even that cheap out fails him.
Fed up with the world, Boris turns his back on much that society has to offer, instead spending his days teaching chess to kids while publicly humiliating them at every opportunity. Yes, Boris isn't a happy camper, and takes pride in it. The fact that he's managed to maintain a core of four friends is a miracle in and of itself.
Then one day fate causes him to cross paths with Melodie St. Ann Celestine (played by the delightful Evan Rachel Wood), a country bumpkin runaway from the backwoods of Louisiana. She is Jethro Bodine to Yellnikoff's Einstein. A complete intellectual and generational opposite. Love at first sight it isn't, but given the axiom that opposites attract, Boris soon finds himself falling for the much younger siren (cue the Allen parallels).
While some critics have complained that much of the dialog comes across as stilted and unnatural (which it does), Whatever Works unravels more like a stage play than real life, which, I think, is how Allen meant it. As writer and director, he has lots to say here and refuses to allow such trivialities as natural delivery stand in the way. This isn't to say that the performances are wooden, but rather that nobody talks like Yelnikoff in real life, and I'm good with that. What's important here are the ideas, constructs and situations that Allen infuses in his characters.
Interestingly, while much of the movie's theme focuses on the serendipity of life, and thumbs its nose at the divine, the film can easily be viewed from both the atheistic and spiritual viewpoint, particularly given how events unfold in a seemingly manipulated manner.
While not Allen's finest work, Whatever Works will appeal to those who enjoy a light romantic comedy, particularly one that provokes a few sparks from our grey matter, while delivering its laughs.
When Woody Allen's films are released in the UK I usually blink and
miss them. I happened to be in France this week so I was able to catch
Whatever Works which is having its first general release in that most
Woody-friendly of countries.
In Whatever Works, Larry David plays Boris Yellnikoff, Woody Allen's most unsympathetic character yet. He is even bleaker than Harry Block in Deconstructing Harry, this is despite the fact that the screenplay was apparently written in 1977 during what some people refer to as Woody's funny period. Woody usually gets away with his portrayals of nihilistic characters because of his diffident manner. Larry David, on the other hand, plays what is recognizably an Allen character but in a very aggressive manner, direct to camera. I do sympathise with Allen's world view that life is meaningless, arbitrary, painful and followed by oblivion, but, even for a sceptic like me, David's delivery is a little too blunt. To make matters worse, he is an arrogant misanthrope who regards himself as a genius and everyone else as inch-worms and cretins. He even verbally and physically abuses the small children who he is supposed to be coaching in chess.
By chance, Boris shacks up with a naïve Mississipean runaway, Melodie, charmingly played by Evan Rachel Wood. In one of many implausible plot devices she just turns up on Boris's doorstep and he takes her in. Things start to look unpleasantly like an old man's fantasy with the 60-something Boris and the 20-something Melodie although, fortunately, Allen spares us the bedroom details. We are in familiar Allen territory here with an older man having a Svengali-like influence on a younger woman. Then, suddenly, in the film's best scene, Melodie shows that she has completely adapted Boris's attitudes and beliefs, expressing contempt for her young friends' optimism and cheerfulness.
Things improve greatly in the second half of the film as the action becomes more farcical. First Melodie's mother arrives on their doorstep, closely followed by her father. Both are rapidly seduced by New York life and renounce their Southern fundamentalism for exciting new lifestyles and sexual orientations. Melodie's mother, Marietta, mischievously played by Patricia Clarkson, becomes a famous photographer on the strength of some snaps she has taken with a cheap camera. The plotting is quite perfunctory here but it is so funny that the viewer is carried along with the fantasy. And, of course, it is a fantasy that the vast majority of Americans who believe in Heaven and Hell can just have Allen's doctrine of despair explained to them and reject their value systems instantly.
The film ends on a note of euphoria and one can see that the whole thing is a parable. All the characters seize their one bit of happiness, whatever works for them in a naughty world. I liked the way the mood of the film flips: it starts in despair but you leave the cinema with a broad smile and a warm glow.
"Sometimes a cliché is finally the best way to make one's point." Boris
Woody Allen's witty movies may seem clichéd (love does indeed conquer all in most of his romcoms), but they do make a humanistic point couched in Allen's pessimism and nerdiness. With Larry David playing another Allen alter ego, Boris, a self-proclaimed genius, this misanthrope in Whatever Works is the best characterization of Allen in his recent movies. The movie works for me as the smartest, most enjoyable of this summer with a message countering Allen and his alter ego's world-weariness.
It doesn't take long to look at David's work co-creating Seinfeld and starring in his own Curb Your Enthusiasm to see that this world-weary worry wart is a good choice to play an Allen-like New York Jewish intellectual. Unfortunately his lack of real acting talent is a hindrance, especially when he slips into shouting many of his lines. Yet when David plays himself more than the stuttering Allen, he becomes relaxed and believable. When David speaks to the audience several times, the sincerity is powerful.
Allen wanted Zero Mostel to play this part; his death in 1977 put the script in mothballs for decades. As an accomplished Broadway and film actor, Mostel underscores David's limited acting range.
The conceit of Whatever Works is that older Boris in his 60's hooks up with twenty-year-old Southern Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) despite his genius mind rejecting the whole affair as trite but his heart going with "whatever works." Throughout, Allen juxtaposes the Southern innocence with Northern experience creating a situation where NYC actually transforms the Southerners into urban sybarites, no better exemplified than the transformation of Melodie's mom (Patricia Clarkson) from bible thumper to artist humper with avant garde photos and multiple lovers. Even her ex-husband, John (Ed Begley, Jr.), has a NYC epiphany of the sexual kind.
Although Allen has his characters looking for love with results that will remind you of his Everyone Says I Love You, the sweetness is replaced with a philosophy that encourages searching out whatever works because of the transitory nature of love and life.
The mixture of love and cynicism allows deep appreciation of irony and the transformative nature of experience.
Well, my first review for the IMDb. I picked one that I thought I was
not going to like, but I like Woody Allen, so I gave it a shot.
I thought I would not like Whatever Works, because I read and heard some of the critics' negative reviews.
So, the first ten to fifteen minutes or so into the movie, I'm thinking that Larry David is better at improvising, as on his own show, than doing someone else's lines, albeit Woody Allen's.
But then, as usually is the case with Mr. Allen;s movies, I got hooked half way through. I got hooked because it was very well done. The story, the direction, the acting - yes, Larry David was perfect for this. It was a risky casting move on Mr. Allen's part, but it worked beautifully.
I like it also because Mr. Allen interjects philosophy in all of his movies. He courageously exposes himself, allows us to hear his thoughts and does these things by seducing us with entertainment.
The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the sort of "tying up" philosophy about how we should go with whatever works. Such a happy ending. Why?
That said, id didn't interfere with my overall appreciation of the movie.
Greetings again from the darkness. Such an odd experience ... watching
an old Woody Allen for the first time. Well that's the best way I can
describe this. The script was from the 70's and certainly, Mr. Allen
made a few changes to make it fit the 21st century, but still we can't
help but think it's 1977 all over again ... especially since Woody has
been away from NYC for awhile.
Larry David is cast in the "Woody Allen" role and does his best to bring his Curb Your Enthusiasm delivery. The only problem, his character here, Boris Yellnikoff, is just a very bitter, abusive, negative force ... so even some of the best comedic moments are a bit tainted by the mean spiritedness.
Evan Rachel Wood has been a star in the making since "Thirteen" and really brings a new dimension not just to her career, but also the film. Her runaway southern belle is a flat out hoot. When her parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.) arrive, we gain some insight into Allen's thought process ... he thinks NYC is the be all and end all ... and can even enlighten those southern "crackers".
Mr. Allen has always been obsessed with three topics ... dying, sex and intellect, and all three are on prominent display here. He really has an innate ability to exaggerate life subtleties and slap us upside the head in his films. I believe his message is that the big picture of life is overwhelming and disheartening, but as individuals, we can each find happiness.
A perfect blend of Woody Allen's views on love and relationships and
Larry David's pessimism of life and the imbecilic, Whatever Works won't
appeal to those who can't find humor in the morbid recesses and
sarcastic ranting of these two comedians' minds, but everyone else will
revel in the darkly misanthropic philosophies. Though this perverse
fable may wrap up a little too neatly for those less inclined to
believe in optimism for such an ensemble of decadent misfits, viewers
with the right amount of indifference towards decency won't object, as
long as they aren't one of the mindless zombie masses so scathingly
scolded in the cynical social commentary.
Attempting to impress his ideologies on religion, relationships, and the randomness (and worthlessness) of existence, lifelong New York resident Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) rants to anyone who will listen, including the audience. But when he begrudgingly allows naive Mississippi runaway Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) to live in his apartment, his reclusive rages give way to an unlikely friendship and Boris begins to mold the impressionable young girl's worldly views to match his own. When it comes to love, "whatever works" is his motto, but his already perplexed life complicates itself further when Melodie's parents eventually track her down.
It may be written by Woody Allen, but it certainly feels like Larry David's material. Regardless of who's channeling who, the biting humor in the film is simply hilarious; it's surprising how much fun can be had from watching a character who positively abhors life, people and interaction. Boris may not be relatable, but he's wickedly sarcastic and intelligently despicable. The conclusion may be a bit too tidy to be interpreted as much more than a cynical comedy, but the supporting actors and clever dialogue creates a set of disillusioned protagonists that are easy to watch.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the odd-couple pairing of elderly Yellnikoff and the hopelessly naïve twenty-something Melodie. Extreme differences in age and social standings have been explored in Allen's previous films, but both characters are so delightfully polar opposites that seeing them together is refreshing. They're two runaways on a mission to fulfill the illusion of meaning, one a self-proclaimed genius, the other a foolish, feeble-minded cretin with a heart of gold. Add to that the nonstop sophomoric tirades on religion, sexuality, mortality, marriage, the presidency, racism, human existence, and chess, and you've got an overload of pessimistic insights posing as genius. It may not be a feel good movie, but it's convincingly ridiculous and it absolutely works.
- The Massie Twins
First, just so you know, I'm writing this review from France... but I'm
from the U.S. That, so you don't disregard this as yet another
Franco-Allen fan (they've exchanged their Jerry Lewis passion for Woody
over here, and sanction everything he does).
Also, disclaimer: I really like and respect Woody Allen's work and I'm also an ex New Yorker. With a Jewish wife, no less. So no, okay, I'm not unbiased.
All that said... I fully agree with "boyden" in that this movie is far better than the reviews it gets from critics. On rottentomatoes.com, for instance, this garnered a 45% rating. That's on par with non-hits like "Gigli" etc.
Yet, the dialogue was great... Larry David was as close to a Woody Allen substitute as anyone has come in a long time (Allen always casts people he can direct to sound like him, it seems)... and it made me crave that old New York, before the money of the recent pre-bust boom turned it into a homogenized has-been of a city.
Evan Rachel Wood, by the way, was overwhelmingly charming. And I thought all the other acting was excellent too, in the way people act in Woody Allen movies... which is ALWAYS different from what it is in other films (you occasionally get those moments where the lines are crafted or improvised rather than somewhere in the middle).
At any rate, it's amazing the size of the disconnect between fan response and the response of the critics... who, in my opinion, should go watch Annie Hall and Sleeper and the like so they can remember again.
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