Woody’s Wet Dream

Written by admin on . Posted in Arts & Film, Film.


Ten years after his great expectoration of bile in Deconstructing Harry, comes up with Whatever Works—the most shameless, cynically titled Hollywood con job since the days of Billy Wilder. Having lost his originality, Allen here reboots the acerbic Deconstructing Harry by mixing in the rancid, misogynistic Mighty Aphrodite. It’s another of his old-goat/young-girl fantasies, but with TV’s Larry David in the know-it-all lecher role and Evan Rachel Wood as the bimbo sexpot. Only this time, Allen’s wet dream is primarily bile, adding little wit and then an avalanche of sentimentality.

At first it seems Allen is satirizing his own arrogance when David, playing Boris, a Columbia University professor who teaches “string theory,” protests his superiority to the world—including his other middle-aged bohemian Leftist friends. Allen became good at deflating his admirers—especially in Deconstructing Harry—but then he started catering to them in his decadent European fare, starting with Everyone Says I Love You. Now that contempt seems to include the audience—whom Boris even addresses in one of those inept meta-stunts copied from Bob Hope movies that Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo boosters mistook for surrealism.

This big, I swear! Larry David stars opposite Evan Rachel Wood in Woody Allen’s latest.

This big, I swear! Larry David stars opposite Evan Rachel Wood in Woody Allen’s latest.

Whatever Works’ vaudevillian gambit isn’t surreal; it’s insolent. The distinction comes from Boris’ crotchetiness: Only he knows the world is falling apart, that pollution, stupidity and hypocrisy are everywhere. He proudly opposes the “fallacious notion that people are fundamentally decent.”

Boris’ boiled-down philosophy is “Zilch—nothing comes to anything.” This would seem to put Allen in the Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant nihilistic mode (he employs Milk cinematographer Harris Savides for that artsy-deadened look, negating every room’s light source.) Boris is an old-fashioned prickly egotist like a Saul Bellow misanthrope—which helps connect this character to the one Larry David invented for his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Allen must envy the urban archetype David originated. It developed from a nervy collision of Jewish intellectual hubris and stand-up comedy chutzpah. David’s personalized angst was candidly self-deprecating yet, through Allen’s ego, Boris flaunts superciliousness. He has the same pompous cultural taste that Allen sponsors in films from Annie Hall to Hannah and Her Sisters. When Boris takes in the homeless Southern girl Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Wood), he berates her pop music as “eardrum-bursting bilge.” It’s the 2009 version of the cultural arrogance Alvy Singer used to woo/intimidate unconfident Annie Hall.

Unattractive as all this is, it’s long been part of Allen’s woo/intimidation of the mainstream. Praising Allen’s films is a way media-folk disguise intellectual inferiority: you must enjoy his antagonism—as when Boris calls Melodie a “bedraggled microbe, a sub-mental baton twirler” or uses his pacification through Fred Astaire and Groucho Marx as a weapon of cultural authority. Allen’s arrogance is no longer entertaining. Deconstructing Harry already took it to the limit; that was his real Saul Bellow movie—an obvious response to the boomeranging honesty of assholism seen on TV’s Seinfeld (co-created with Larry David).

It gets worse with Allen’s humorless liberal points against Bible Belt Christianity: Melodie’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) comes looking for her daughter and falls for the lure of the Big City, then her cheating husband (Ed Begley Jr.) comes to town and falls for the lure of alternative lifestyles. It’s a Hello, Dolly! subplot with Boris as a sex-fixated matchmaker.

“I’m a sensitive soul with an enormous grasp of the human condition,” Boris says. “I’m the only one that sees the whole picture, that’s why they call me a genius.” But Woody Allen means it.

This might have half-worked if Larry David was an actor, rather than a performer parlaying his HBO shtick (answering the call of the master distorts David’s once-bracing skepticism). David cannot convey the affection that should come with Boris’ romantic change of heart. And striking as Wood has been in movies like Pretty Persuasion, her sweet young thing doesn’t get a chance to challenge the old goat as Diane Keaton memorably did in Manhattan. Wood becomes another of Allen’s female victims like Judy Davis, Mia Farrow, Mira Sorvino, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz. If Allen wasn’t a filmmaker, these persistently demeaning female characterizations would stamp him a serial mauler.

Jerry Seinfeld’s canard that his celebrated series was about “nothing” was only taken seriously by people who want to ignore the assholism that was parodied. Allen, who could never repent his own condescension, misappropriates David and Seinfield’s candor. Now he preaches at the morons Deconstructing Harry simply excoriated. Instead of exposing liberal hypocrisy, Allen turns sanctimonious: The embittered Boris, who derided his friends’ “predictable unsatisfying love lives,” gets mushy. Resolving Boris’ anger issues with a homily about life as “a temporary measure of grace” proves that what Allen learned from Larry David and Seinfeld is exactly nothing.


Whatever Works
Directed by Woody Allen
Runtime: 92 min.

Tags: , , ,

Trackback from your site.

Woody’s Wet Dream

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Whatever Works
Directed by
Runtime: 92 min.

Ten years after his great expectoration of bile in Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen comes up with Whatever Works—the most shameless, cynically titled Hollywood con job since the days of Billy Wilder. Having lost his originality, Allen here reboots the acerbic Deconstructing Harry by mixing in the rancid, misogynistic Mighty Aphrodite. It’s another of his old-goat/young girl fantasies, but with TV’s Larry David in the know-it-all lecher role and Evan Rachel Wood as the bimbo sexpot. Only this time, Allen’s wet dream is primarily bile, adding little wit and then an avalanche of sentimentality.

At first it seems Allen is satirizing his own arrogance when David, playing Boris, a Columbia University professor who teaches “string theory,” protests his superiority to the world—including his other middle-aged bohemian Leftist friends. Allen became good at deflating his admirers—especially in Deconstructing Harry—but then he started catering to them in his decadent European fare, starting with Everyone Says I Love You. Now that contempt seems to include the audience—whom Boris even addresses in one of those inept meta-stunts copied from Bob Hope movies that Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo boosters mistook for surrealism.

Whatever Works’ vaudevillian gambit isn’t surreal; it’s insolent.The distinction comes from Boris’ crotchetiness: Only he knows the world is falling apart, that pollution, stupidity and hypocrisy are everywhere. He proudly opposes the “fallacious notion that people are fundamentally decent.”

Boris’ boiled-down philosophy is “Zilch— nothing comes to anything.”This would seem to put Allen in the Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant nihilistic mode (he employs Milk cinematographer Harris Savides for that artsy, deadened look, negating every room’s light source.) Boris is an old-fashioned prickly egotist like a Saul Bellow misanthrope—which helps connect this character to the one Larry David invented for his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Allen must envy the urban archetype David originated. It developed from a nervy collision of Jewish intellectual hubris and stand-up comedy chutzpah. David’s personalized angst was candidly self-deprecating yet, through Allen’s ego, Boris flaunts superciliousness. He has the same pompous cultural taste that Allen sponsors in films from Annie Hall to Hannah and Her Sisters.When Boris takes in the homeless Southern girl Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Wood), he berates her pop music as “eardrum-bursting bilge.” It’s the 2009 version of the cultural arrogance Alvy Singer used to woo/intimidate unconfident Annie Hall.

Unattractive as all this is, it’s long been part of Allen’s woo/intimidation of the mainstream. Praising Allen’s films is a way media folk disguise intellectual inferiority: you must enjoy his antagonism—as when Boris calls Melodie a “bedraggled microbe, a sub-mental baton twirler” or uses his pacification through Fred Astaire and Groucho Marx as a weapon of cultural authority. Allen’s arrogance is no longer entertaining. Deconstructing Harry already took it to the limit; that was his real Saul Bellow movie—an obvious response to the boomeranging honesty of assholism seen on TV’s Seinfeld (co-created with Larry David).

It gets worse with Allen’s humorless liberal points against Bible Belt Christianity: Melodie’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) comes looking for her daughter and falls for the lure of the Big City, then her cheating husband (Ed Begley Jr.) comes to town and falls for the lure of alternative lifestyles. It’s a Hello, Dolly! subplot with Boris as a sex-fixated matchmaker—Hello, Dildo!

“I’m a sensitive soul with an enormous grasp of the human condition,” Boris says. “I’m the only one that sees the whole picture, that’s why they call me a genius.” But Woody Allen means it.

This might have half-worked if Larry David was an actor, rather than a performer parlaying his HBO shtick (answering the call of the master distorts David’s once-bracing skepticism). David cannot convey the affection that should come with Boris’ romantic change of heart. And striking as Wood has been in movies like Pretty Persuasion, her sweet young thing doesn’t get a chance to challenge the old goat as Diane Keaton memorably did in Manhattan.Wood becomes another of Allen’s female victims like Judy Davis, Mia Farrow, Mira Sorvino, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz. If Allen wasn’t a filmmaker, these persistently demeaning female characterizations would stamp him a serial mauler.

Jerry Seinfeld’s canard that his celebrated series was about “nothing” was only taken seriously by people who want to ignore the assholism that was parodied. Allen, who could never repent his own condescension, misappropriates David and Seinfield’s candor. Now he preaches at the morons Deconstructing Harry simply excoriated. Instead of exposing liberal hypocrisy, Allen turns sanctimonious: The embittered Boris, who derided his friends’ “predictable unsatisfying love lives,” gets mushy. Resolving Boris’ anger issues with a homily about life as “a temporary measure of grace” proves that what Allen learned from Larry David and Seinfeld is exactly nothing.

..