Blu-Ray Review: ‘Whatever Works’ Coasts on Worn Formula
CHICAGO – There was a time when a Woody Allen film starring Larry David would have been an obvious slam dunk. Both men have created comic personas so vivid and indelible that it’s hard for viewers to pinpoint the line separating “performance” from “personality.” They have mastered the art of neurotic kvetching, though their similarities are skin-deep at best. While Allen’s persona has exuded a Chaplinesque charm since the early days of “Bananas,” David’s is aggressively misanthropic, as his monstrously petty obsessiveness digs him into one hole after another in the uproarious HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “Whatever Works” marks the first time these two comic titans have forged a close collaboration, and that’s why the film is ultimately one of the year’s most heartbreaking disappointments.
Blu-Ray Rating: 2.0/5.0
I’ve never actually hated any movie by Woody Allen. Even his weakest efforts have a few witty lines and provocative thoughts to spare. This one is no different, and does contain some sizable laughs, the best of which is spoiled in its trailer. Since the movie ultimately spoils itself, I’ll tell you the joke now: two men sit in a bar. One is devoutly religious, and becomes uneasy when the other man not only identifies himself as gay, but claims that God is gay as well.
Man 1: “That’s a sin against God’s law! He made the whole universe perfect; the oceans, the skies, the beautiful flowers…”
Man 2: “That’s right, he’s a decorator.”
Whatever Works was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 27th, 2009.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video
That kind of snappy hilarity is what used to seem effortless in past Allen comedies. Now the audience is forced to savor any scarce morsel of laughter the filmmaker has left to provide. “Forced” is the best way to describe this picture, which is so thoroughly artificial that it slides into the unseemly waters of self-parody.
The “plot” is more like a checklist of ancient story threads that Allen has already run into the ground, the worst of which is a budding relationship between the wretched David and the nubile Evan Rachel Wood. Allen has been brutally honest (and brilliantly perceptive) when exposing his inner demons, particularly his penchant for younger women, in past films. But in “Manhattan,” one could almost buy the tenderly observed relationship between Allen and Mariel Hemingway. Here, there is absolutely no conceivable motivation for why the sweetly bubble-headed Wood would fall for an old SOB like David, no matter how brain-dead she is.
Allen has said in interviews that he rarely ever watches any of his films. The second he completes one of them, he immediately begins the next one. Filmmaking has become less of a passion for him than a psychological compulsion, with a rotating cast and crew that function as his enablers. He’s often expressed doubts about anyone caring about his films, and in the opening and closing sequences of “Whatever Works,” his characters openly acknowledge the audience. It’s a touching gesture from a seemingly antisocial filmmaker, and it’s a real shame that it didn’t materialize in a better film. David’s only believable line reading comes at the end, when he openly doubts if anyone bothered to stay through the whole picture.
Here’s some advice to Woody, from one of his biggest fans: if you insist on continuing to make films, why not explore new territory each time? When you work in a different time period or different country with a fresh group of characters, your films take flight. But seriously, I think the whole “kvetching pessimistic Manhattan nebbish attracted to barely legal female” thing has run its course. This formula is so tired and worn that anytime you try working with it again, it’s a disaster. After “Anything Else” and “Whatever Works,” you might as well name your next New York comedy, “Any Old S—t.”
“Whatever Works” is presented in 1080p High Definition with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The disc is “BD-Live enabled,” but contains no extras.
By MATT FAGERHOLM