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Larry David

"Whatever Works"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Remember the spectacular "Star Trek" reboot that hit theaters back in May? With CGI genius, new faces and old make up, the sci-fi film franchise received CPR to take it forward for decades. Could that be what's happening this summer for Woody Allen's string of comedies with "Whatever Works"?

Speaking strictly in Jungian terms, Woody appears in this latest of his Electra-like fables (which take me back to the Jean Seberg films pregnant with daddy issues) only as scriptwriter and director. Taking on the mantle of Woody Allen actor and, well---daddy---is Larry David ("Curb Your Enthusiam," "Seinfeld"). But unlike the new "Star Trek," "Whatever Works" is not a prequel. It follows in the long line of romantic sex comedies with the usual existential ranting that only Mr. Allen has been able to create and sustain.

To put a finer point on it, "Whatever Works" is actually Alvy Singer on Viagra. Allen played Alvy in "Annie Hall" in 1977. Since Larry David (at 62) is only about a dozen years younger than Woody, it's possible the erectile dysfunction remedy was given some thought for mileage in the script, although that's not the case. Woody even spares us any lovey-dovey scenes between David and Evan Rachel Wood, playing a barely legal Southern beauty queen. Wood first appears in "Whatever" as a scuffling waif in New York City, but persuades the 'hero' of the film into wedlock. Ms. Wood is 22. Her character's name is Melodie St. Ann Celestine.

Henry Cavill and Evan Rachel Wood
Evan Rachel Wood and a rejected swain

David is cast in the Allen persona who, this time, is an eccentric Jew named Yellnikov. Boris never lets anyone at anytime go without reminding them he's a genius and that life sucks. He's divorced and refers to his rich ex wife as someone he met who had a high IQ and a low-cut dress. Boris is lonely and grumpy as only Larry David can be and boasts that he, Boris, almost won a Nobel Prize for his work in quantum mechanics.

Melodie doesn't yet understand what quantum mechanics means or, for that matter, nothing about the Absurdity of Life and that everything in the universe is flying apart. But Boris makes great strides in making it all clear to the simple, perky Melodie, who, despite her delicious Southern accent, is as disarming as Woody Allen's Yankee heroine, Annie Hall.

Another disarmer arriving on scene in Boris' New York flat, where he now lives with Melodie, is Patricia Clarkson as Melodie's God-fearing mom. She's Marietta, in town to find her daughter and flee from her philandering, fundamentalist husband, John, played by Ed Begley, Jr.

The Henry Higgins-Eliza Doolittle Syndrome (HHEDS) is also in play for mother Marietta. She soon eschews (love that word) her religious cloak, so to speak, and begins living the life of a liberated art photographer on the New York scene. Since her husband cheated on her back in Mississippi then left her, Marietta attains further liberation by taking up residence with two of Boris' intellectual manfriends. You should hear Ms. Clarkson say "ménage a trios" in her native New Orleans accent.

Patricia Clarkson
Patricia Clarkson at a hookah bar

I vote for Patricia Clarkson as having given the best performance in "Whatever Works." Ms. Wood is a stellar second. Mr. David shows in third place as some of his timing is off a tad and he looks a little at sea addressing us: the audience peering at him through the fourth wall. I'm guessing he's in a different milieu not doing his own thing he executes so well on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But Woody's cracks and allusions that pervade the script bring real zing to Larry David's entertaining and bitching performance. Example: After a few glasses of wine, Marietta says she wants to go somewhere fun. Boris suggests a visit to the Holocaust Museum.

John shows up at Boris' pad later, still, looking for his wife and to ask her forgiveness for his infidelity. He's so shaken with the "new" Marietta that he takes to drink in a Manhattan bar only to befriend an unhappy gay man who's just been jilted by his longtime companion. Begley is just right as John with a televangelist hair comb and preacher-like speech pattern.

As with other Allen comedies there are long-take moments of dialogue with many adjoining scenes having a stage-like quality.

Exteriors revert to more of a cinematic feel. The film has no high production at all and misses a mile not matching up to the polish of Allen's recent films, "Vicki Christina Barcelona" (2008) and "Match Point" (2005).

Another tidbit to see in "Whatever" is a walk-on appearance and a few lines from Samantha Bee, who's no relation to the McClatchy newspaper here in Sacramento. Actually Ms. Bee is the wacky, pushy, red-headed correspondent seen often with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show." They could've put Samantha's act to greater use. Maybe Allen will write a new screenplay around Ms. Bee as a young television reporter who's having an affair with a married middle-aged cable anchorman or red state governor.

Checking ages again: Larry David is 62, Evan Rachel Wood is 22, and Jessica Hecht---who, in closing scenes, plays a woman with whom Boris looks like he'll actually hook-up---is 44. A doubling of 22 years going from one female to another is a pretty good average for Woody Allen---who'll be 74 in December. Ah yes Woody, December.

Cut the old, funny, romantic Jewish dude some slack.

"Whatever Works" official site.

Now playing at the AMC Southroads 20 in Tulsa.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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