Sunday, 14 October 2018

Whatever Works

This 2009 comedy written and directed by Woody Allen stands out for me as one of his more engaging and character-rich films with more one-liners than you can shake a stick at, an intricate plot meandering all over the place with crazy situations and outcomes! You might get the feeling that I like it!

The ageing Woody wisely decided to replace the role he’d historically reserve for himself, placing a substitute in place do ‘be him’. He did this is various films, including Celebrity (Kenneth Branagh), Irrational Man (Joaquin Phoenix), Midnight in Paris (Owen Wilson) and so on. In this case, he secured the services of the very funny and deadpan Larry David. In the UK, we haven’t really had much exposure to David - his writing and acting reserved mainly for American audiences in shows like Sienfeld (which I have still never seen an episode of!), Saturday Night Live (ditto) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (which I have seen, but only since Whatever Works).

He’s a very funny man and has those same miserable, neurotic, cynical, sceptical, nihilistic and pessimistic attributes in his role that Woody himself has made a career out of portraying! David has been very well picked to fill the shoes and delivers beautifully, as if he was the man himself.

The story is about Boris, the middle-aged hypochondriacal misery with suicidal tendencies, broken marriage in his wake, trying to make it through to his funeral without too much pain in a run-down bachelor-pad in Manhattan. He hangs out with a handful of acquaintances at local cafe spots and street corners ruminating on the meaningless of life and existence!

One ordinary night as he heads for home, he stumbles upon a young woman who’s run away from her home in Mississippi, and is desperate for somewhere to stay and get off the street. Unlikely as it seems, Boris takes her in - initially for a cup of tea, but she ends up staying of course. Melody is played very well by Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood, Westworld, Thirteen), making her own acting mark as the naive, uneducated, heavily-accented southerner presenting with charm and a humour of her own. She’s a cute little character who the audience immediately warms to and don't want to see exploited by the likes of the miserable git!

However, the longer she stays with him, the more he influences her and she starts to see the world through his eyes. Events unfold and develop as various characters are introduced from her past and their present and Allen gets the chance again to exercise social commentary through humour and bizarre situations in the usual storytelling way, which at times verges on pantomime! It’s all great fun though and if you’re an Allen fan you’ll love this outing.

Allen ensures that David uses the ‘fourth wall’ technique that he himself is a master of, taking it even further in this case - even engaging the other characters in the story with the unseen cinema audience, the other side of the camera. It’s very cleverly done and on a trivial level allows for narration of the story, but on another, a very funny opportunity for glances and quips to us, the exclusive audience ‘on set’ in the same way as Miranda Hart does in Miranda, the BBC Comedy. When it’s done well, it’s fabulous to watch - all about timing, gesture and facial expression.

As always, the direction, sets and atmosphere is executed beautifully, from open spaces to small apartments, art galleries and street scenes. The photography is very interesting, as I’ve said before, enveloping a European style of film-making by delivery and production. He’s good at that and has made a study of European cinema to develop the craft.

It’s a great film, full of rich characters, funny dialogue, ludicrous situations and off-the-wall conclusions. The supporting cast are all very capable including some Allen regulars like Patricia Clarkson (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Michael McKean (Curb Your Enthusiasm), injecting their own personality on various roles in the story. Well worth checking out if you get the chance - and for the fan, a must! For more of Larry David in a similar role, go get Curb Your Enthusiasm!

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