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Whatever Works Makes Two Good Movies in a Row (for Woody)

Published June 18, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Sony Pictures Classics
Whatever Works PosterWhatever Works
Damn, Woody Allen’s made two good movies in a row. Now there’s only one more left before another 10 year slump with the likes of Celebrity, Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Cassandra’s Dream.

Review: Whatever Works

Whatever Works is familiar territory for a Woody Allen comedy. It centers on a relationship between an older man and a very young woman. It’s got a slight genre-bending gimmick but mostly it’s just a likeable romp. Of course there’s a threesome, but only in the B story this time.

Larry David is not doing Woody Allen, nor is he doing Larry David. Of course there are some neuroses but they are played more as acknowledgments of facts, not anything to be anxious about. He’s a hypochondriac and cynical about romance, yet he’s practical. He’s definitely playing a better person than the Larry David on Curb.

His character is a genius so they have fun with the burden of knowing everything, having seen it all, but he also seems at peace with the inevitable disappointment that comes with the end of any life moment. This is just how it is and it’s happening again. David’s performance makes it all real, not a caricature. Demanding more than clichés from people is actually admirable. Even his condescending remarks sound sweet because he really means is.

He takes breaks from the scene to talk to the audience, so Woody Allen has gone from pulling obscure authors off the street and interacting with a Greek chorus to doing Ferris Bueller. At least it’s not a stupid gimmick like Scoop, Jade Scorpion or Hollywood Ending. It’s just not original.

The impact of intellect on a flighty youth is actually sweet. Evan Rachel Wood is as adorable as Mira Sorvino was, or as Mariel Hemingway probably was or the first time we saw Diane Keaton. She’s bright, cheery, innocent. The mismatch is classic, whether in buddy action or odd couple comedies. The classics still work. Also Anal Sphincter is funny because it’s redundant.

Woody Allen remains perceptive about people’s tendencies. There are some clever one-liners but also situational comedy where you set up crazy elements and watch them go. It shows people evolving. Allen may be evolving with modern issues too, as he throws in some topical observations regarding the gay rights movement that seem like new territory for him as far as I recall. His observation about automated toilets is also perceptive about modern phenomena.

So, two down, one to go. The last time we saw a run like this was Mighty Aphrodite, Everyone Says I Love You and Deconstructing Harry. That means whatever his movie after the next is will be Celebrity. Ugh.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Sony Pictures Classics

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