Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Briefly: Whatever Works (2009)

The message of Woody Allen's Whatever Works couldn't be clearer. The film's main character, Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David), comes right out and says it directly to camera at the film's conclusion:
"Whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works. And don't kid yourself. Because it's by no means up to your own human ingenuity. A bigger part of your existence is luck, than you'd like to admit.
Boris' philosophy might be a sublime approach to life but it is a dreadful one for filmmaking. As human beings, we should all live and let live, do unto others, and count our blessings. But film directors need to do more than shrug their shoulders, be polite, and leave the ultimate quality of their work to luck. Supposedly based on a screenplay Allen originally wrote back in the 1970s for Zero Mostel, Whatever Works tells the story of how the curmudgeonly Boris learns to live and love again after a bad divorce and a suicide attempt, in large part because of his relationship with a young runaway from the South named Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood). Thematically, Allen's back in Annie Hall territory, with another story of a naive country girl and her instructive relationship with a "sophisticated" Manhattanite. But Annie Hall had a real affection for Annie; Boris, and by extension the movie, treats Melodie with open contempt, calling her, and really anyone who isn't from New York City (including her stereotypical rube parents, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.), cretins, imbeciles, and morons. David plays himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm with a similar air of superiority, but there he's the butt of the jokes at least as often as the rest of humanity is. In other words, Curb often sides with the viewer; Whatever Works always sides with Boris. Maybe Boris' theory is correct. Maybe Whatever Works doesn't work because of simple bad luck. Or maybe Woody Allen just took an old screenplay out of a drawer, one that wasn't good enough to make back when he wrote it, and hoped some very fine actors would elevate the material.

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Blogger The Kid In The Front Row said...

I didn't get the feeling the movie shared the same view as Boris, about the world/non-New Yorkers. It always seemed obviously irrational.

I would've been interested to see Woody play the role - although he seems to have retired from acting now. I think there's a real sweetness and humanity to his screen persona, that we don't get with Larry David, especially in this movie.

5:32 PM  

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