Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stuff We Watched: Whatever Works

We just finished watching this about an hour ago, and I don't think I'm going to be able to sleep until I sit down and get this goddamn blog post out of my head. I'll just toss and turn for a few hours, going over the things I would say about it, if I had a forum with which to make my voice heard. Which now I do, so at least I can get this all out and maybe get a little sleep like a normal person.

I knew, when I put this sucker at the top of my Netflix queue, that it had not been very well received. But I was intrigued enough by the thought of Larry David walking around in a Woody Allen movie that figured, what the hell. I have to admit that I am something of a Larry David mark; he has a... well, presence isn't the right word. It's more that there's never been anyone else on camera remotely like him, not even Woody Allen himself. In the words of Mel Brooks, there's something about that middle-aged bald guy that thrilling.

Here's the thing you should know about Woody Allen movies, though, and keep this in mind the next time you think about seeing one: he makes a movie about once a year. That's a pretty rapid pace. Think about how long it takes to make a movie. And sure, Woody Allen movies don't take as long to film, and there sure as hell isn't a lot of post-producion done on them, but still. A movie a year. And he's been doing this for a long time, meaning he's made A LOT of movies.

And not all will be good. I often wonder if even the most creative of us have a finite source of creativity from which to draw from; yes, like a well, and remember that wells run dry. Woody Allen, I think, doesn't go through the normal process most of us go through in developing an idea, finding out if it's worthwhile. No, he just turns them right into movies. At that pace, how can he not? And who is going to tell him that maybe this one isn't so hot, and should stay in the desk drawer?

Whatever Works is the story of a middle-age New York Jew that falls for a woman much younger then himself. Manhatten it is not. David's character, Boris Yetzen-something, is supposedly a genius-level physicist that almost won a Nobel Prize once upon a time, though frankly the movie really doesn't do anything with this background. We never learn anything about the work Boris did that brought him to the top of his field, and David sure doesn't do a lot to sell that he's an expert in Quantum Mechanics. Really, the movie would be better off if he just thought he was smarter then everybody else, without having ever achieved anything more then made children cry playing chess.

The movie would be better off. That's a phrase that goes through my head a lot as I think about it. Because there are so many things that could have happened, that you expect to happen, that wouldn't have made the movie any better, probably, but would have made it less infuriating. Mainly, the ingenuine, played by Even Rachel Wood, who used to be on a show I have a certain fondness for called Once & Again that should really only have been watched by middle-age women. But I digress. She plays a young woman, fresh off the bus (or something) from Mississippi, with hardly a brain in her head but a heart on her sleeve.

But here's the thing about this girl, and I suppose I should say *SPOILER WARNING* here, although I beseech you to not see this movie, and just read what I'm about to type instead: I was sure she was a con artist. Her performance was so bad, her character so phony, that I was sure it was going to turn out that she was a junkie on the run from Queens that had found an easy mark and a comfortable place to lay low. Well, perhaps not that drastic. But surely- surely- we could not be meant to take this character seriously, not with her catfish and beauty pagents and story of her first time... you know *blush*. This can not be a real character.

When her mother shows up out of the blue, fresh from having left her father, I thought: here we go. This is her partner, mayber really her mother, and Boris actually has money stashed away, I mean look at how he's living. He's clearly not spending anything. But she'll have real feelings for him, not love but feelings nonetheless, and in the end she'll tell him the truth, leaving him heartbroken but a little wiser. Learning that even he, as brilliant as he knows himself to be, wants to believe that people are whom they say they are. Maybe, just maybe, he learns a little something about life.

This is not what happens. Her mother, it turns out, it something of an idiot savant photographer, and becomes an avant- garde artist, and shacks up with two men, and then her father shows up and- I kid you not- realizes that he's been gay all his life. See, because everybody that lives in the Red States is actually a repressed free spirit, and if they could just somehow find their way to Manhatten, they could discover their real selves, and everything would work out in the end. See, Republicans, see?

Woody Allen's career goes through this funny little cycle where he makes several lousy movies in a row, and everyone thinks he's lost it, and then he goes and makes something brilliant and everyone thinks he's back. It was only a few years ago that he made Match Point, which is one of the five best films he ever made. If he could just find a way to not make these movies in between, just say "no, that's a stupid idea, and anyway, I've already covered that theme like seven times in my career" we'd all be better for it. Thing is, everything he does has an audience. When I worked at the Ritz Theater in Philadelphia a decade ago, we would get a new Woody Allen movie every year, like clockwork. And the same senior citizens would come out for it; they wouldn't even adk for the movie by name, just say "one for Woody". I always wondered why he even bothered going to the trouble of naming his movies, when he could have just gone with My New Movie by W. Allen and been equally successful. Of course, most of that audience is probably dead by now.....

Whatever Works is probably the worst Woody Allen movie I've ever seen. It's definitely the worst episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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