whatever works

The knee jerk reaction to any of the marketing for Woody Allen’s Whatever Works is to assume that Allen cast Larry David in the lead role as a mildly updated proxy for Allen himself. But putting aside the obvious bald, neurotic Jewy-ness of both men, the connection proves tenuous. Allen’s lead characters tend to be neurotic, self deprecating wiseacres. In Whatever Works, David is a neurotic, self-aggrandizing wiseacre. Huge difference.

There’s an inherent contradiction in David’s character. Boris (yep, that’s really his name) is an award winning academic who fancies himself above all of the so-called “microbes” who inhabit his daily life. Yet he’s obsessive compulsive, suicidal, and uncomfortable in his own skin. His mantra, culled from life experience, is “whatever works.” As in, any way you can be happy in this life, make it happen. It’s a completely trite sentiment from the mouth of a character who’s otherwise incredibly pessimistic and self removed from society. Shockingly, in the hands of David, a non-actor, Boris almost works. It makes sense that Allen himself wouldn’t be right for the part, but Boris is still very much a product of Allen’s brain. He knows how to make a character like this tick, and it’s enough to make Whatever Works totally bearable.

But Allen is perfectly adept at writing overeducated New Yorkers of a certain age. That’s not a problem. Allen just doesn’t understand anyone else.

The rest of the principal characters in Whatever Works are southerners, each introduced to big scary New York at different points in the film. First, Evan Rachel Wood, a 21-year-old runaway, who clings to David as some kind of intellectual god, put on earth to correct her weirdly wholesome red state upbringing. David and Wood eventually marry, though Allen mercifully presents their relationship as only mildly affectionate and practically sexless. Later, we meet Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr., Wood’s separated parents, who each find some kind of ridiculous redemption through the magic of Manhattan and David’s perversely strong sphere of influence.

Wood, Begley, and Clarkson all come off as disingenuous Southern gothic pastiche. Wood’s character is further burdened with the curse of being young, an object for Allen’s fetishization and mockery, but without any depth, her motivations whimsical but wholly unnatural.

If not for the fact that the old man still has a knack for glib one liners, Whatever Works wouldn’t work at all. There’s still a little bit of humor let in the tank, and it’s enough to make you long for the Allen of old. But that guy won’t be back. You see, Boris’s motto is double sided. Allen used to be a great comedic mind, and now he just settles for whatever works. (Told you fuckers I went to headline writing school; I also took a seminar on hack closing lines.)

Film: Whatever Works
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley, Jr.

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; standard projection
My grade (out of 10): 5
Rotten Tomatoes average: 45%

Next up: Bruno

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09. Check out the full list to date here.

battle for terra

In retrospect, there was absolutely no need for me to see Battle for Terra, a CGI-animated non-blockbuster that really defies further description. The film’s opening was greeted with yawns (angry yawns), clunking down at eighth place in the box office tally.

With the unparalleled level of disinterest surrounding Battle for Terra, I was more than surprised that I wasn’t completely alone in my Tuesday matinee. Armed with a small, one dollar bag of popcorn (it was “stimulus Tuesday” at the local Carmike theater) and a one dollar thimble-full of Coca-Cola, I joined this small (yet merry) band of nerds for a rote morality play about a peaceful alien society about to invaded by silly humans intent on finding a planet that can provide a supportive ecosystem (since, of course, they’ve ruined their own). Voice work from the likes of Evan Rachel Wood and Justin Long was not enough to rescue this one.

While it’s certainly no Delgo (and seriously, you should read about Delgo, a similar 2009 alien-based animated film that holds the distinction of the worst major release opening weekend of all time), Battle for Terra is definitely the worst Ottawa International Animation Festival Grand Prize winner I’ve ever seen.

You’re off the hook, 1994 winner The Wrong Trousers.

Film: Battle for Terra
Director: Aristomeneis Tsirbas
Stars: Brian Cox, James Garner, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, David Cross, Dennis Quaid, Amanda Peet, Luke Wilson

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee; shockingly not alone.
My grade (out of 10): 1
Rotten Tomatoes average: 46%

Next up: Star Trek

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09.