Sunday, 27 June 2010

Cinema: Whatever Works

Larry David has been swallowed whole and passed through the bowels of Woody Allen onto a Manhattan street where they both belong. After 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona', which did a creditable impression of a Pedro Almodovar movie and was the auteur's most enjoyable outing in years, the portents weren't good.

For a start, while I love Larry David when he plays Larry David, I seriously doubt whether he can play anyone else. He is a Jewish New Yorker trapped in the body and mind of a Jewish New Yorker. Fortunately, the third most famous man to answer to that description is given his own skin by the first. What doesn't work is his notional day job as a nuclear physicist, but strip the script of the occasional quantum reference and nobody would miss much. Better to have made him a retired comic writer and be done with it.

That aside, Larry David plays Larry David and plays him well. He gets to deliver some Woody Allen lines that are more thought through than his usual Curb Your Enthusiasm improvisations, but they seem no less spontaneous; Larry's sounds like a stand-up even in the most mundane of conversations, and while he doesn't have the genius of a near Nobel prize winning scientist, he does have a knack at gnawing at the bones of a conversation until they miraculously regrow meat.

Woody Allen movies generally feature versions of himself; in recent years, they've put the Woody-Woody-would-like-to-be  rather than the Woody-Woody-has-now-become centre stage, which isn't to say Boris/Larry is the kind of somebody anybody else would aspire to. Infact, he's a misanthropic loner who seems to have given up on his higher calling to spend his days sharing his solipsistic observations and bleak cosmological musings with his cafe cronies and abusing would-be chess prodigies and pretty much anyone else he encounters while patrolling his neighbourhood. Plagued by nervous tics and prone to conversational tropes, he is the stupid genius who doesn't even seem that bright.

Then a southern belle walks into his life; a Briney Spears before she was famous, spouting Mickey Mouse dreams and sweet as a cream filled twinkie. Melody is played by Evan Rachel Wood who at least has to act out a part; as sleight and vapid as her role might be, the girl can act. She is everything Woody wants - young, pretty and cute in a stupid-assed way. Moreover, she's willing to marry a cranky old fuck and feed him crayfish pie and viagra. Her arrival and their year long union is wholly unbelievable, but whoever said comic situations require credibility to be funny. Woody goes just as far as he likes with the scenario, turning her Waco (as in Texas) parents into wacko (as in Manhattan) born-again bohemians, and getting the best out of the supporting cast in the process.

I went into the cinema wondering why I was there. It was the sunniest day of the year outside and the only other member of the audience might have stepped straight out of the New York cafe where Boris hangs out having had too many crispy cremes and cafe lattes. He laughed like a cat choking up a hair ball. All of Woody Allen's films these days seem half-thought through and half-finished, sketches either of greater works or projects his younger self would've discarded. But Woody Allen is Woody Allen. And Larry David is Larry David. If you love either, you will forgive this film its faults and find much to like, the old moment to love if laugh-out-loud moments are your chosen symptoms of comic romance. 'Whatever Works' just about works despite itself and turns feel-bad into feel-good like only a couple of Jewish comic geniuses from New York can.

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