One down side of being an auteur is that after a while all of your films become strikingly similar. Another down side is that no one picture can ever be judged on its own merit, but rather always in context of ones past. Those facts are never so apparent than in Woody Allen’s new film, Whatever Works. A decent example of his theories on the human condition this movie will be remembered as the one where Allen most cannibalized himself.
Here playing the Woody Allen role is Larry David whose cliche hating Boris is just a mirror image of Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David, but a little more acerbic. He has some very funny gems about the futility of life, but by the end of the film just repeats himself over and over again. Evan Rachel Wood fares better as the naive Melody who draws on her youthful beauty to create a convincing portrait of a girl who doesn’t have much more.
The inevitable romance between the young beauty and the old beast (an almost patented Allen convention) serves as a backdrop to a comedy about what happens when the ignorant meet the pedantic. As Melody’s family (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) show up at Boris’ doorstep they are one by one transformed from bigoted, right wing nut cases into cliched, bohemian liberals. Taking swipes at both extremes Allen lightly slaps the left while throwing an uppercut at the right.
It is beyond question that Woody Allen loves movies. Stardust Memories is to 8 1/2, as Deconstructing Harry is to Wild Strawberries, but also Match Point is to Crimes and Misdemeanors as Whatever Works is to The Mighty Aphrodite, and Broadway Danny Rose, and a myriad of his other works. From the young girl/old guy dynamic that he has used in almost every one of his films since Manhattan, to the table of guys self consciously talking about the story the audience is about to see (Broadway Danny Rose, Melinda and Melinda) this film feels like a best of album of Woody’s past work.
The shame is that with all of those elements that worked in the past here are just okay. The film will never be tossed in the pile of sure misses (Anything Else, Hollywood Ending), but will never climb the mountain of hits (Annie Hall, The Sweet and Low Down). If you love Allen’s work this will feel like a warm comfortable blanket, but if you’re just on the fence it will seem about as repetitive as Boris’ misanthropic complaints.
El Luchador Rating: (3 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)