WHATEVER WORKS (2009)
Running Time: 92 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Woody Allen
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Michael McKean, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr.
These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty!
The next time you’re tempted to think of some actor or acting student as being too too precious and effete because they were taking classes on breathing take a look at Larry David’s performance in WHATEVER WORKS. Larry David as Larry David – brilliant! Larry David playing someone other than Larry David – No Apparent Function. Timing is everything in comedy but LD reading someone else’s words becomes an effort to get the words out correctly and only partially funny in the narrow “whine” bandwidth. He even has a look on his face, not the same but analogous to Bush’s moronic smirk, when he managed to get some difficult name nearly right. Larry, I love you but you can’t act. At all.
Not that anything Larry could have done to save this thing. It’s not terrible, it’s just disappointingly mediocre. The first problem is the script. This is something Woody Allen has dug up from his trunk. All writers have unrealized projects that they drag out. Preston Sturges was famous for his terrific run of hits in the early ’40s. When he became famous he spread himself thin with outside work and went back into his trunk to pull out scripts he wrote and didn’t sell in the 1930s. When he ran out of scripts he ran out of luck.
WHATEVER WORKS had originally been written for Zero Mostel who died in 1977. So how old does that make this script? It shows its age. Sometimes, I realized that the script played like a stage play, sometimes it seemed to be a dramatized short story. It’s the old, obvious middle-aged man sex fantasy. Making it with some young chick. There were a series of films like BREEZY and SAVE THE TIGER where free love hippie chicks hitchhiking in LA become attached to the balling they were receiving from William Holden or Jack Lemmon. Free love, man. And there were losta knock-offs. Lotsa middle age movie producers out there.
Larry David plays a genius physicist who specializes in Quantum Theory. We are told this but there is nothing about David’s persona which even suggests this kind of intelligence. He’s clever as say the average TV comedy writer. Just more of a bully. He finds a dumb blonde on his doorstep and then the script writes itself as they say. He seems to live in the loggia of an abandoned “el” station or maybe the stairwell of the boys gym in a barely converted ex- public school. She’s a runaway from Alabama and her parents follow her and are transformed by the magic of New York City from straight bible thumpers to happy perverts. Sort of like what Terence Stamp did to the family in TEOREMA.
The script just goes round and round until it stops. The End.
The other remarkable thing about this film is how Woody Allen cut corners to trim his budget to the reduced availability of cash. There is a (typical Allen) scene where Larry and chick are brought together by a Fred Astaire film on TV. Only there is no angle to show what they’re watching. There is some music but I couldn’t identify it. Maybe it was from one of his lesser known 1940s film, but not from a classic. There is no dialogue or singing either. To have shown a clip from an Astaire film would have involved a set of very expensive rights – to film, to music, to Astaire’s image. All throughout the film I couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be scenes missing certain shots, whole scenes missing, whole sequences ignored. The music credits are a fraction of what Woody usually uses. There were some repeats from past films. I wonder if Allen already owned the rights to some songs. Woody was famous for completing entire films and then shelving them to re-shoot with another cast. Here he takes what he can get done on the money he has. All I could think of was “Woody in reduced circumstances.” The line about the pretzels was funnier.
Oh, it’s also a message picture – you should only live and be well and try to enjoy yourself as long as you’re alive. Amen.
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