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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: June 15, 2009 08:20 AM

HuffPost Review: Whatever Works


It's already a minority opinion, but I enjoyed Woody Allen's newest, Whatever Works. I won't go so far to classify it as A-level Woody Allen, but it's solidly in the high B range - funny, heartfelt, with hokey jokes and occasionally surprising insights.

I'll admit it right off the bat: I'm in the tank for Woody Allen.

Not unreservedly. In the past decade, I've found some of his films more substantial and meaningful (Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) than others (Cassandra's Dream, Curse of the Jade Scorpion).

But I'll go so far as to say that Woody Allen's humor was a key in my early (and continuing) idea of what comedy could be - from his early stand-up appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show or The Tonight Show through a movie career of 40 years (and an incredible 40 films). These days, at his best, he can be Chekhovian in his appreciation for the tragic strains of the human comedy - and at his worst, it's still Woody Allen making with the shtick.

Much has been made of the provenance of this particular screenplay: that Allen wrote the film with Zero Mostel in mind for the central character in the late 1970s - the Annie Hall/Manhattan period. But when Mostel died in 1977, Allen put it in his drawer - and when he had a window on short notice to make a film last year in New York, he pulled this one out - and had the stroke of casting brilliance to choose Larry David for the Mostel role.

The writing, buffed by Allen to bring it up to date but dealing with remarkably consistent themes 30 years later, is less reflexively jokey than Allen was in the '70s. Still, the old rhythms are hard to shed, particularly when you've got David kibitzing on everything around him. His condemnation is a foregone conclusion, as is his dismissal of virtually any variation from his own sense of earthly doom.

David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a physicist whose main claim to fame is that he was "considered" for a Nobel Prize. Driven mad by a wealthy wife who rejects his perpetual sense of gloom, he tries to kill himself. Instead, he survives, with a limp, and rejects his old life for a crummy Chinatown flat where he can live like a persnickety hermit. He emerges occasionally to commune with a group of fellow intellectuals (including Michael McKean and Conleth Hill), but mostly to disparage women as a species and announce his own retreat from interpersonal relationships with any of their kind.

Then he meets Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), a teenage escapee from the Deep South looking to make her way in the big city. The grouchy Boris finds her sleeping in his alley on a rainy night and reluctantly invites her in to spend a night on the couch that turns into an unlikely friendship and even more unlikely marriage.

For the rest of this review, click here to reach my website: www.hollywoodandfine.com.