Good Enough for Me

by |
06/17/2009 4:00 AM |

Whatever Works
Directed by Woody Allen

Why is Woody Allen’s dialogue so bad? Reviewing Cassandra’s
in these pages, Michael Joshua Rowin pinpointed how “moral
themes and usually self-explanatory elements like character traits
[are] spelled out for the audience.” A theory: The Woodman films his
rough drafts. This allows him to maintain his one-a-year pace —
and work with various belles du jour — while still playing
clarinet at the Carlyle every Monday night and rewatching the old Fred
Astaire movies that, in Whatever Works, like the Marx Brothers
in Hannah and Her Sisters, make life worth ending later rather
than sooner.

The character sketches and thematic outlines themselves remain
springy, though expect tut-tutting at Whatever Works
thirty-years-creepier-than-Manhattan mentor/lover relationship,
between stand-in schlemiel Borris (Larry David) and Southern-fried
runaway Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood). The movie is half
self-justification, half apology, as David’s misanthrope physicist
— his habit of referring to himself as “Nobel-nominated” gets at
the arrogance not entirely obscured by self-parody — is so cowed
by Melodie’s naïve sexuality (and preteen sleepover wardrobe) that
he inadvertently (honestly!) snows her into a state of awe and

What really doesn’t work, though, is the leftover dinner-party
banter — especially the insular, smugly angry typing of red-state
mores — with which Allen establishes David’s crank credentials.
(A bit of the writer’s well-read absurdism, and Catskills emcee
persistence, differentiate from David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm
grouch.) Well, that, and the direct-address summations lifted from
Annie Hall, minus their cloak of metaphor, and the uneven
performances permitted the normally laser-focused Patricia Clarkson and
easygoing Ed Begley, Jr. Yup: Whatever Works is a movie made by
somebody with dinner reservations.

Opens June 19