Monday, November 2, 2009
Woody Meets Larry and it 'Works'
Is it even necessary to start out by saying that I'm a huge Woody Allen fan? Is it even possible for someone to love film without being a huge Woody Allen fan? I say, no. The man is a genius. Yes, he's become a tad predictable in adhering to the New York-intellectuals-lament-love-with-age-diverse-pairings-and-ultimately-come-together-during-celebratory-party-while-vintage-clarinet-jazz-music-colors-the-scene formula. But there's still a little magic there.
To find Larry David inhabiting the lead (the Woody role, par usual) in "Whatever Works" is Woody's most brilliant casting to date. Larry David is so lovable and believable that we can even forgive the absurdity of the prerequisite, later years Woody standard: the nubile young beauty who falls in love with the cantankerous old man. We can also forgive the silliness of 'Boris Yellnikoff' (David) suddenly addressing the camera while his friends look on, wondering if he has lost his marbles. The typically semi-natural Woody dialogue becomes butter in David's mouth. Never a pause, never a falter, never a blip in how normal it all seems.
Yellnikoff is a bitter, self-proclaimed genius who lives alone in Manhattan. When he arrives home one night to find a needy young girl on his doorstep, he begrudgingly takes her in. 'Melodie' (Evan Rachel Wood) is the starry-eyed Southern girl who pours honey all over Yellnikoff's bile. When Patricia Clarkson, as her mother, 'Marietta,' enters the scene, we're in for a wild joy ride. From a repressed, religious Southern self-righteousness, to an expressive, uninhibited, threesome-living artist, Marietta makes a delicious transformation. 'John' (Ed Begley Jr.), Melodie's father, makes a less believable transformation.
Loaded with truisms about religion, politics, and the general state of things, burdened with a familiar plot, and sugar-coated with a formulaic ending...still. "Whatever Works" works, thanks to the wit and wisdom of Larry David.