On paper, teaming ace Curb Your Enthusiasm curmudgeon Larry David with legendary curmudgeon writer/director Woody Allen is ideal. Or at least maybe it would have been had Allen not stopped being a relevant filmmaker years ago. Still, my love of David made me excited to rent their collaborative effort Whatever Works when it his DVD shelves this week. But in case my snarky second sentence didn’t give my opinion away, let me leave no doubt. This movie sucks.
The movie tells the story of Boris Yelnikoff (David), a crotchety, know-it-all, former Pulitzer Prize nominated Physicist, who leaves behind an upper class lifestyle after a failed suicide attempt. The miserable Boris despises everything and everyone. Then one day, he meets a beautiful 21-year-old Southern Beauty Pageant contestant named Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), who he begrudgingly forms a romantic bond with despite a four decade age difference and the fact, as Boris points out constantly, she operates at a much lower intellectual level than he does.
The movie annoyed me from the start, when Boris addresses the camera while all the other characters look around befuddled saying “whose he talking to?” I have no problem with characters breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience, but to do it in this fashion is usually annoying. This time around, it’s damn annoying.
The movie doesn’t get much better as it goes along. The script just felt thrown together, which is odd seeing as how Allen wrote an initial draft of it in the 1970’s. Almost all the themes and ideas, especially an abrupt storyline involving Melodie’s father’s (Ed Begley Jr.) sexuality, are very underdeveloped. Like his main character, Allen seems to think he’s so much smarter than all the lack-wits watching his movie that he feels it would be beneath him to present them in a way that could possibly make us care. If you’re going to be an elitist, at least have the decency to not be completely lazy in the process.
As for the acting, it’s nothing special. I love Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, love him. However, I’m not sure how much acting he is really doing on a show where he plays a character named Larry David who reenacts moments from his real life. While the character of Boris isn’t light years away from his Curb persona, the dialogue on that show is almost entirely improvised. Here, in this scripted movie, there are moments where he clearly appears to be reciting lines. While he has some funny moments, especially in scenes where he angrily tries to teach chess to young children, this ranks well behind Curb and his guest spot on Hannah Montana in terms of my favorite LD performances.
The rest of the acting is mostly forgettable. Both Begley and Patricia Clarkson are fine as Melodie’s parents, but seeing as how I never really cared about their respective metamorphosis, I never much got into their performances. The only performance I truly liked was that of Evan Rachel Wood, who is very good as the cheerfully dopey Melodie. Wood is very likable in what could have easily been a very annoying role. One of Woody Allen’s strengths as a writer/director is creating solid female roles, and it’s about the only thing he got right in this movie.
This is the second review this month where I’ve blasted a movie staring one of my favorite TV actors. However, Larry David comes out better than Ricky Gervais did as this movie wasn’t his own creation. Had it been, we likely would have gotten many of the self-deprecating pratfalls that tend to occur on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which somehow always has us rooting for him even when he’s acting like a total prick. In Whatever Works, his character spends the entire movie bragging to both the characters and the audience how much smarter he is than them without ever doing much to show us what makes him so bright.
I saw this movie just hours after finding out that someone got a hold of my debit card number and used it to purchase $300 worth of crap from a UK based t-shit website, so I was definitely in the mood for a “fuck the world” type movie. Even with me in this mental state the movie was a failure.
Much of the blame I think goes to Woody Allen. Perhaps saying he’s no longer relevant isn’t right, seeing as how last film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, earned Penelope Cruz an Oscar win. But we’ve seen this movie from him before. In fact, we’ve seen it a lot of times, and just bringing in a new actor to play the Woody Allen character doesn’t make it fresher.
Movies like Bananas and Annie Hall could get away with certain self-indulgences becasue they were funny and insightful. Whatever Works seems to think it possesses both of these qualities, but it has only a few laughs and isn’t even remotely thought provoking. What we end up with is a boring, convoluted mess, and when it’s over, we feel like we’ve just spent 90-minutes with a blow-hard bragging about how much better than us he is.
- A few funny moments
- Evan Rachel Wood
Final Score: 4.5/10