I have absolutely loved Woody Allen’s work over the years.
As a teenager in the mid ‘70’s, I even thought I related to him, during his ‘funny, early film’ period, as it was once described.How a suburban teen could understand an urbane east-sider was beyond me at the time, but still I thought it worked.
He was a sports nut, he was funny, he was Jewish, as least in spirit.What else did you want?And he even got the girl.And then in 1980 he made Stardust Memories.For me the film was a brilliant departure from this early period, even the second phase of New York centric films (Annie Hall, Manhattan), and off Woody went into the theory of the mind.
Over the past thirty years Allen has made a significant number of films, done some fantastic work (Hannah and Crimes and Misdemeanors more than hold up, they’re each telling in different ways), and cobbled together some clunkers.
He has been in the tabloids for his unusual family, his unusual behavior, and his distance, until recently, from New York and the United States.
So you would think a film written during his early, funny period, the time that introduced him to the world of film and a wider audience than his initial writing and standup routine, would be a nice step back in time, an amusing look at people and situations, with insight, wit, borsch-belt upstaging, and all sorts of amusement.
You would think that, or at least, would hope for that.
Unfortunately, Whatever Works falls flat on delivery.
Larry David is completely miscast in the lead, and comes across as dated, angry, bitter, and tired. This is the worst casting since Sofia Coppola in Godfather 3.But it’s worse, as Coppola was but one player in an ensemble, and wasn’t the central player in that story.Here, David’s Boris Yellnikoff is the primary lead, and that placement scars an already tortured script with an embarrassing performance.
This film was dreck.There were at least three entire scenes that were used in later Woody Allen films (rare spoiler alert, don’t read if you don’t want to know:1) an early scene with Rachel Evan Wood where he tells her to meet people her age....that was the scene, better done, late in Manhattan with Mariel Hemingway; 2) the café scene where they break up.....that was the sprout restaurant scene in Annie Hall, where they break up;3)the marquee title 'Anal Sphincter' was used for more than a short laugh in Hannah and Her Three Sisters when Woody took Dianne Wiest to a punk club, or was taken to a punk club, during their bad date scene).
Whatever Works, in sum, is a simpler and more reduced version of the far superior Manhattan.The older male characters in each take up with naďve but prospectively significant, and of course beautiful, young woman.And an affect that carries through here, David talking directly to the camera, to us in the theater, was used to much greater effect in Annie Hall.
Sure, there are some funny lines, and an occasional scene worth keeping.The metamorphosis of each of the young lover’s parents, once they hit the cultured mecca of New York, is wonderful, witty, and funy.Overall, very disappointed, one of his worst, even though I laughed at the ménage lines and some other lines mid-way through that I now forget.