Whenever a new Woody Allen film arrives, I meet it with a certain discomfort.
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 ninety-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: cosmic victim.
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 twenty 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 thirteen-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 sixties – My Fair Lady, in which professor Henry Higgins turns a street urchin Audrey Hepburn into a proper lady; and Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, with the lively Anna Karina teaching the 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 Sunday.
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.