Sunday, June 28, 2009

David & Allen: Tepid Bedfellows

Whatever Works doesn't work for all of it's momentary brilliance and good intentions. Woody Allen's latest film tells the diverting tale of Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) an agnostic, and self-proclaimed hater of people, who almost won a Nobel Prize for quantum mechanics, but now spends his time either teaching chess to youngsters or hermiting in his rat-trap apartment. One night he's climbing his back fire escape, when he stumbles across Melodie St. Ann Celestine, a dewy-eyed Southern Belle (Evan Rachel Wood), camped outside his flat, begging for food and lodging. Against his judgment Boris invites her in and it doesn't take long before the two of them decide to get married. Matters only get stranger when Melodie's mother and father (Patricia Clarkson and John Gallagher Jr.) show up to bring her back home, but wind up discovering their own repressed layers of self-expression.

Boris is the kind of curmudgeonly New York Jewish character that Allen has made a career of writing. Getting Larry David to play the part could have been a marriage made in comedy heaven, but unfortunately the script keeps us at arm's length. David's comedic soliloquies in which he expounds on the meaning of existence have the stuff of vintage Woody, but they run on too long. Patricia Clarkson and Evan Rachel Wood play their southern parts admirably, but they feel like they belong in a different movie, as does Randy James (Henry Cavill), the Englishman who Wood has an affair with. Many of the gags fall flat and all of the competing cultural archetypes throw off the timing of the film, preventing it from gaining a consistent rhythm or momentum. Rabid Allen fans will find the movie amusing, but this is a bitter disappointment after Vicky Christina Barcelona.