Sat June 27, 2009
It works for me.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time," "Cinema Classics," and "On the Marquee"
"Sometimes a clich? is finally the best way to make one's point." Boris (Larry David)
Woody Allen's witty movies may seem clich?d (love does indeed conquer all in most of his romcoms), but they do make a humanistic point couched in Allen's pessimism and nerdiness. With Larry David playing another Allen alter ego, Boris, a self-proclaimed genius, this misanthrope in Whatever Works is the best characterization of Allen in his recent movies. The movie works for me as the smartest, most enjoyable of this summer with a message countering Allen and his alter ego's world-weariness.
It doesn't take long to look at David's work co-creating Seinfeld and starring in his own Curb Your Enthusiasm to see that this world-weary worry wart is a good choice to play an Allen-like New York Jewish intellectual. Unfortunately his lack of real acting talent is a hindrance, especially when he slips into shouting many of his lines. Yet when David plays himself more than the stuttering Allen, he becomes relaxed and believable. When David speaks to the audience several times, the sincerity is powerful.
Allen wanted Zero Mostel to play this part; his death in 1977 put the script in mothballs for decades. As an accomplished Broadway and film actor, Mostel underscores David's limited acting range.
The conceit of Whatever Works is that older Boris in his 60's hooks up with twenty-year-old Southern Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) despite his genius mind rejecting the whole affair as trite but his heart going with "whatever works." Throughout, Allen juxtaposes the Southern innocence with Northern experience creating a situation where NYC actually transforms the Southerners into urban sybarites, no better exemplified than the transformation of Melodie's mom (Patricia Clarkson) from bible thumper to artist humper with avant garde photos and multiple lovers. Even her ex-husband, John (Ed Begley, Jr.), has a NYC epiphany of the sexual kind.
Although Allen has his characters looking for love with results that will remind you of his Everyone Says I Love You, the sweetness is replaced with a philosophy that encourages searching out whatever works because of the transitory nature of love and life.
The mixture of love and cynicism allows deep appreciation of irony and the transformative nature of experience.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, Cinema Classics, and On the Marquee, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com