July 14, 2009

MOVIES: Whatever Works (2009, Woody Allen)

Even by Woody Allen standards, Boris is an unlikable protagonist. He's a grumpy misanthrope who's made it to the border of middle-aged and old without ever really caring about anyone, and he's convinced that he's the intellectual superior of everyone. And he's played here by Larry David, who doesn't have the talent to make Boris likable, or even tolerable. (Whatever Works was reportedly written in the 1970s as a vehicle for Zero Mostel, who could have made Boris a love-to-hate-him kinda guy.) Even if David had the talent to pull off the leading role, though, there are so many farfetched contrivances and unpleasant stereotypes in this movie that it wouldn't be worth watching.

The central relationship is between Boris and Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a runaway from Mississippi who Boris reluctantly takes into his home. In that instant, whatever credibility the movie had is shattered; the Boris we've met in the first ten minutes wouldn't take anyone into his home, reluctantly or otherwise.

Melodie, being a Southerner in a Woody Allen movie, is obliged to be a drawling dimwit; when we meet her parents (played by Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.), they are, of course, fundamentalist Bible-thumping religious fanatics. And because they are Southern Christians in a Woody Allen movie, their religious beliefs are shallow, insincere, and transitory, easily tossed aside as they become sophisticated New Yorkers.

Clarkson's transformation from Southern belle to trendy artist might actually be interesting, but Allen's script doesn't allow her to show us that transformation. We're introduced to Marietta #1; Boris talks to the audience (a gimmick that rarely works, and really falls flat here) with a "can you believe it's been a year?" speech; and now Marietta #2 is on hand. Clarkson does a fine job with each Marietta, but since we don't get to see the transition, they feel like two separate performances instead of a single character.

There are a handful of funny lines scattered among the dreck, but not enough of them to make it worth sitting through the movie. Skip this one.

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