A Review of Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works”

Larry David tries to convince Evan Rachel Wood that Woody Allen likes her just as much as Scarlett Johannson.

Larry David tries to convince Evan Rachel Wood that Woody Allen likes her just as much as Scarlett Johannson.

“I’m not a likable guy…”
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

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 reworked 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 worldview, 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.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

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Check out some of my reviews of past Woody Allen films:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Match Point (2005)

Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Annie Hall (1977)

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A Review of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke walk along the lonely Jersey Shore on a cold winter's day in THE WRESTLER.

Evan Rachel Wood and Mickey Rourke walk along the lonely Jersey Shore on a cold winter's day in THE WRESTLER.

 Down and Out in New Jersey, 9 January 2009
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A fading wrestling star (Mickey Rourke, perfectly cast) suffers a heart attack and must battle with being down and out in Sh*thole, New Jersey in Darren Aronofsky’s gritty character piece, The Wrestler.  Message to Hollywood: there actually are nice places in Jersey…really…I’m not joking…trust me…but that’s another story.

Aronofsky utilizes a self-consciously shaky camera and grainy cinematography to emphasize his depiction of a life literally on the ropes. For much of the film we are walking with the camera behind Rourke seeing everything from his point of view–another stylistic choice that may wear on some viewer’s nerves while seem like a stroke of genius to others.

Admittedly I’ve never understood the appeal of pro wrestling, but I imagined it could be a decent vehicle for a character drama. Aronofsky delivers a mixed bag in this respect. Despite the expertly edited piece detailing the humorously brutal and tragic bout that leads to the aforementioned heart attack and the match that closes the film, the remainder of the wrestling bits are unnecessary and really add nothing to the story. The scenes in a shady gentleman’s club (featuring a fabulously adept Marisa Tomei playing the over-the-hill but still hot stripper friend with a heart of gold) and the clips detailing Rourke’s character’s everyday struggles (including some great bits where he works a deli counter) are slightly more appealing and deliver some genuine moments. However, the scenes where he attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter (an over-acting Evan Rachel Wood) seem staged and under-developed, which undermines the documentary style feel of the rest of the film. I won’t deny I felt something for these characters, but haven’t we seen this all before?

As finely tailored as Mickey Rourke is to his part, his is essentially a one-note character where we see him in varying stages of failure that lead him to believe the only place he can find acceptance is in the phony but dangerous world inside the ring. As good as Rourke and Tomei are, the script plays their story safe and succumbs to clichés. That being said, The Wrestler is still more engaging than your average Hollywood character study, and it’s worth viewing for the occasionally authentic moment and the fine performances from Rourke and Tomei. But as Bruce Springsteen’s theme song played over a black screen before the credits rolled, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Rourke and his character–and maybe that was the point. They try their hardest, but the film in which they appear isn’t worth the hype.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.