Whatever Works

Release Date: June 19, 2009
Limited release

There's nothing about this picture that isn't disturbing.

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66/82 Kelly Metz Woody Allen films are such hit-or-miss with me. This was such a huge miss. I wish Larry David would stop the Curb Your Enthusiam shtick.

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Another year, another film by the former Allen Konigsberg

When I was growing up, Woody Allen was one of those directors I latched on to immediately. For the longest time, it seemed as if he could do no wrong (or at least not heinously so), especially for someone so prolific. Consider this: beginning with his first feature as writer and director, 1969's Take the Money and Run, he has averaged a film a year for the last 40 years, never mind his projects in print, stage and standalone acting. And yet, his output in the last decade and a half has almost made me yearn that he would slow down at least a little, focus on the quality over the quantity.

The bitter and vitriolic Deconstructing Harry (from 1997) was acclaimed by many, but felt to me like drowning in a vat of vinegary neuroses. 2005's Match Point was heralded as both a return to dramatic form and a fine thriller but I thought it paled in comparison to Crimes and Misdemeanors (still among his best) For the most part, the films in this stretch have been cute but underwhelming comedies (i.e. Smalltime Crooks, Hollywood Ending).

There are a few notable exceptions: last year's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which for all its flaws, transcended the menage-a-trois hook of the plotline to become among his most bittersweet ruminations on the fickleness of love and the mysteries of our hearts. On the flip side, Celebrity (with Kenneth Branagh "playing" the Woody Allen part) was one of the few films ever that made me consider walking out of the theater because of its tone deaf attempt at humor, weak insights into showbiz and a relentlessly hammy, unfunny Branagh.

Celebrity is worth mentioning in the context of Allen's latest, Whatever Works. As is the standard for his productions, details about plot and characters are closely guarded while the film is shooting and only come to light as the film pulls closer to being released. In Allen's own words, Whatever Works is a "May-December romance, but a slightly different one for me. The film is blackish comedy." Considering the male lead is three times the age of the female, the potential for a strong ick factor should not be discounted.

Evan Rachel Wood (who I will always prefer to think of kissing Mischa Barton on Once and Again and not Marilyn Manson in real life) is the May side of the couple as a Southern girl named Melodie who as Wood describes "is so dumb that she just sees the good in everything." Ed Begley Jr, Michael McKean and Patricia Clarkson costar.

It's the casting of the male lead, however, that is most intriguing. The part that would once upon a time have been played by Woody himself is being played by Larry David. Best known as the creator of Seinfeld and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, this will actually be David's first big-screen lead role in his own decades-spanning career (but his third Woody project overall after bit parts in Radio Days and Allen's segment in New York Stories). It will be fascinating both to see how his curmudgeonly/hateful TV persona fares on the big screen and the give and take between his sensibility and Allen's humor. I am not entirely convinced that it will.

Whatever Works has been selected to open the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. (Brett Beach/BOP)

Vital statistics for Whatever Works
Main Cast Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Begley Jr.
Supporting Cast Patricia Clarkson, Henry Cavill, Kristen Johnston, Michael McKean
Director Woody Allen
Screenwriter Woody Allen
Distributor Sony Pictures Classics
Rating PG-13
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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