IT WORKS FOR ME
by Kevin Bowen
published June 19, 2009
now playing in select theaters
Whenever a new Woody Allen film arrives, I meet it with a certain
No matter how eloquently or ineloquently he handles his favorite
ongoing theme – the role of chance, fate, luck in the universe – you know it is a 90-minute attempt to escape culpability for that most infamous
romantic episode in his life. What? Leave my partner for her teenage daughter? It’s just random chance. Woody Allen, victim of the
If this is so true, if it is all such a random act of blameless
chance, then why feel so guilty and defensive about it? Why make movie after movie about something that happened 20 years ago? To convince others
you’re right? Or because you can’t convince yourself? I mean, you’re not the first artist with an eccentric sex life. Occasionally Edgar Allan
Poe wrote things that weren’t about his 13-year-old cousin.
Even if Allen returns obviously and directly to this situation
with Whatever Works, featuring a May-December romance between the balding Larry David and the perky teen with the lousy southern accent
Evan Rachel Wood, it works because its’ the funniest Allen film in years. For once, Allen lovers won’t need to twist themselves into mental
Pilates to find reasons to praise it.
Whatever Works refers to tangled farcical trysts that develop among its characters –
primarily Boris Yelnitkov, a genius physicist with a mean mouth and a suicidal streak and the young Mississippi belle with more spunk than
intellect. He fills up her bubble brain with string theory and pessimism. She cooks, cleans and exudes sunshine. He lets her in on the
secrets of the universe. She gives him a reason to enjoy life. Soon their world extends to her repressed mother, a hunky Australian actor
and a few other random figures.
The film plays off of two films from the 60s – My Fair Lady, in which professor Henry Higgins turns street urchin Audrey Hepburn into a proper lady; and
Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, with the lively Anna Karina teaching an overly serious poet about
living life rather than overthinking it. I’ve never thought about comparing those films. There’s something to do on a lonely
Whatever Works has
Allen’s sharpest wit in ages. He lightens the touch with his self-martyrdom, handles the Allen surrogate more honestly than usual, and even
questions the whole chance thing. He’s helped tremendously by David’s perfect deadpan delivery and the upgrade that Wood represents over Scarlett
Johansson. In fact, in its intellect, its positive female presence, and its interest in films past, it serves as an antidote to much of the
“comedy” that exists today.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com