Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Discrepancies Aside

The news, or at any rate the publicity, that Woody Allen had originally written Whatever Works for Zero Mostel (d. 1977) and had only lately pulled the script out of a drawer and plugged in Larry David instead, might have given rise, among a few old-liners, to hopes of a return to the “funny Woody Allen,” pre-Interiors, pre-Manhattan, pre-Stardust Memories (1978, ’79, ’80). Well, it is a return at least to New York City (in the butterscotchy tints of cinematographer Harris Savides), after a lengthy sojourn abroad, in England and in Spain. But it clearly is not a return to the New York City of Annie Hall (1977), as allusions to AIDS, Darfur, the Taliban, and so on, will attest.

Once we’re made aware that the screenplay underwent revisions, we can’t help but wonder as to the extent of these. Does the opening of the film — a group of old male friends reminiscing around a café table, leading into a flashback — prefigure the structure of Broadway Danny Rose (1984) or does it slothfully copy it? And a bigger question: does the older-man-younger-woman romance — a configuration that got Allen into no hot water in Manhattan but into boiling water later on in his personal life — indicate an early predisposition or a recent entrenchment? It matters only slightly. Either way, to have pulled this particular theme out of a drawer at this point, regardless of the amount of honing and sharpening and weaponizing, is to throw it into our faces. Take that, make of it what you will. Some people who still found Allen funny after Manhattan, needless to mention, stopped finding him funny after his real-life romance with the college-age adopted daughter of his Significant Other.

The older man in Whatever Works is diplomatically not Allen himself, but an Allen surrogate, in the role of a neurotic misanthropic hypochondriacal self-acclaimed “genius,” once considered for the Nobel Prize in physics, who peppers his speech liberally (or perhaps we should say intolerantly) with epithets like “moron,” “cretin,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” “zombie,” “mental midget,” “inchworm,” and “earthworm.” Allen has long exhibited a tendency towards intellectual snobbery, but he has never before let it so boundingly off the leash. (“Let me tell you right off,” the protagonist addresses the camera directly, “I’m not a likable guy.”) And so, notwithstanding the mask of the surrogate, that’s thrown in our faces as well.

All of this throwing-in-our-faces, while it is not apt to foster much mirth, does not really foster much provocation either. The film is unmistakably, and emasculatingly, a minor effort from Allen, a low-pressure job. The younger woman (Evan Rachel Wood), a runaway Mississippi hick with a shaky grasp of irony and sarcasm, is never a swallowable character on her own, much less a swallowable partner for the protagonist, although there’s a core of truth, of human observation and perception, in the way she begins to remold herself (albeit malapropistically) to her new mate. Her separated parents, holy-rollers who roll separately into the Big Apple and roll respectively into a ménage-à-trois feminist liberation and a homosexual awakening, are strictly hack. And the dialogue, despite a fair share or perhaps even less than fair share of amusing lines, possesses that stagy, literary, writerly, Allenesque quality that refuses for the most part to come to life.

Larry David, on his part, unlike so many Allen actors who end up sounding like Allen impersonators, proves to be a strong enough presence to escape Woody Allen if not strong enough to escape Larry David. The Larry David, that is to say, of Curb Your Enthusiasm, slight discrepancies aside. (For the record, he’s forty years older than Wood, whereas Woody’s a mere thirty-five older than his own actual spouse.) David, with his rapid gravitation to a raised voice, refreshes Allen’s writing in much the way the British accents refreshed it in Match Point or the Spanish accents refreshed it to a lesser degree in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. A new mouthpiece, a new set of pipes. And the remark above about the unmistakably minor effort deserves a caveat. The minorness of Allen’s efforts has become, besides a regular feature of them, a major part of their attraction. He is no longer out to set the world on fire. He is just out to keep the candle lit. Anyone who has journeyed this far with him will be interested to view his latest effort, however minor.

The Proposal, a more traditional romantic comedy directed by Anne Fletcher, has a premise no more ridiculous than something that might once have featured Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. The editor-in-chief at Ruick & Hunt Publishers, a transplanted Canadian ice queen slash wicked witch of the north, now threatened with deportation for an expired visa, commands her lackey to marry her, true love following along lickety-split. The rotelike working-out of the premise appears heedless of the ridiculousness and therefore increasingly ridiculous, heedless in particular of the age difference — twelve years in real life — between Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, obvious to the naked eye, the proverbial biological clock wound down to its final flagging ticks, a woman-to-man seniority not quite the strict equivalent of Larry David to Evan Rachel Wood, but still. The two stars all the same display a polished smoothness if something less than a Golden Age luster.

Chéri, a compaction of two Colette novels, is not heedless of the age difference — twenty-three years — between a brink-of-retirement Parisian courtesan and the androgynous bastard son of an already retired courtesan, the older woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) hitching her wagon to the younger man (Rupert Friend), who after six years together opts to uncouple and then recouple with a woman his own age, the bastard daughter of yet a third courtesan. Indeed, so heedful of the mismatch are writer Christopher Hampton and director Stephen Frears as to give the occasional impression that the film is actually about something more than Belle Epoque clothes, décors, hairstyles, gardens, cars. The proper tone, however, is a struggle, the hardest labor coming from the arch omniscient narrator (director Frears himself), the lilting, mincing, never-letting-up music of Alexandre Desplat, and above all Michelle Pfeiffer, drawing out her vowels in an attempt to convey jadedness and sophistication and to keep pace in that regard with the predominantly British cast, short of doing a full-blown British accent.

Year One, not so much directed by Harold Ramis as permitted to happen, is an anachronism-littered buddy comedy about a hunter and a gatherer expelled from their primitive village and followed through a Biblical landscape of Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Sodom but not Gomorrah: “What transpires within the confines of the walls of Sodom, stays within the confines of the walls of Sodom.” Michael Cera, who couldn’t remain a contemporary adolescent forever, preserves his delicate and diffident line-delivery even in the rough company of Jack Black. And Hank Azaria, as a fervent Abraham, gets a lot out of the word “God,” and he gets it out a lot, sounding like a blend of the televangelist, the man who hits his thumb with a hammer, and the cat with a fishbone in its throat. The now routine outtakes in the closing credits carry the usual implication of trying desperately at the last minute to make up for the dearth of laughs in the preceding ninety.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

More palm greasers’ help wanted

Tom Sudberry, Peter Cooper give to Barbara Bry
Next Article

Tennis with François Truffaut and Donal Logue

The film is helped immensely by casting four leads to play their own tennis

The news, or at any rate the publicity, that Woody Allen had originally written Whatever Works for Zero Mostel (d. 1977) and had only lately pulled the script out of a drawer and plugged in Larry David instead, might have given rise, among a few old-liners, to hopes of a return to the “funny Woody Allen,” pre-Interiors, pre-Manhattan, pre-Stardust Memories (1978, ’79, ’80). Well, it is a return at least to New York City (in the butterscotchy tints of cinematographer Harris Savides), after a lengthy sojourn abroad, in England and in Spain. But it clearly is not a return to the New York City of Annie Hall (1977), as allusions to AIDS, Darfur, the Taliban, and so on, will attest.

Once we’re made aware that the screenplay underwent revisions, we can’t help but wonder as to the extent of these. Does the opening of the film — a group of old male friends reminiscing around a café table, leading into a flashback — prefigure the structure of Broadway Danny Rose (1984) or does it slothfully copy it? And a bigger question: does the older-man-younger-woman romance — a configuration that got Allen into no hot water in Manhattan but into boiling water later on in his personal life — indicate an early predisposition or a recent entrenchment? It matters only slightly. Either way, to have pulled this particular theme out of a drawer at this point, regardless of the amount of honing and sharpening and weaponizing, is to throw it into our faces. Take that, make of it what you will. Some people who still found Allen funny after Manhattan, needless to mention, stopped finding him funny after his real-life romance with the college-age adopted daughter of his Significant Other.

The older man in Whatever Works is diplomatically not Allen himself, but an Allen surrogate, in the role of a neurotic misanthropic hypochondriacal self-acclaimed “genius,” once considered for the Nobel Prize in physics, who peppers his speech liberally (or perhaps we should say intolerantly) with epithets like “moron,” “cretin,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” “zombie,” “mental midget,” “inchworm,” and “earthworm.” Allen has long exhibited a tendency towards intellectual snobbery, but he has never before let it so boundingly off the leash. (“Let me tell you right off,” the protagonist addresses the camera directly, “I’m not a likable guy.”) And so, notwithstanding the mask of the surrogate, that’s thrown in our faces as well.

All of this throwing-in-our-faces, while it is not apt to foster much mirth, does not really foster much provocation either. The film is unmistakably, and emasculatingly, a minor effort from Allen, a low-pressure job. The younger woman (Evan Rachel Wood), a runaway Mississippi hick with a shaky grasp of irony and sarcasm, is never a swallowable character on her own, much less a swallowable partner for the protagonist, although there’s a core of truth, of human observation and perception, in the way she begins to remold herself (albeit malapropistically) to her new mate. Her separated parents, holy-rollers who roll separately into the Big Apple and roll respectively into a ménage-à-trois feminist liberation and a homosexual awakening, are strictly hack. And the dialogue, despite a fair share or perhaps even less than fair share of amusing lines, possesses that stagy, literary, writerly, Allenesque quality that refuses for the most part to come to life.

Larry David, on his part, unlike so many Allen actors who end up sounding like Allen impersonators, proves to be a strong enough presence to escape Woody Allen if not strong enough to escape Larry David. The Larry David, that is to say, of Curb Your Enthusiasm, slight discrepancies aside. (For the record, he’s forty years older than Wood, whereas Woody’s a mere thirty-five older than his own actual spouse.) David, with his rapid gravitation to a raised voice, refreshes Allen’s writing in much the way the British accents refreshed it in Match Point or the Spanish accents refreshed it to a lesser degree in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. A new mouthpiece, a new set of pipes. And the remark above about the unmistakably minor effort deserves a caveat. The minorness of Allen’s efforts has become, besides a regular feature of them, a major part of their attraction. He is no longer out to set the world on fire. He is just out to keep the candle lit. Anyone who has journeyed this far with him will be interested to view his latest effort, however minor.

The Proposal, a more traditional romantic comedy directed by Anne Fletcher, has a premise no more ridiculous than something that might once have featured Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. The editor-in-chief at Ruick & Hunt Publishers, a transplanted Canadian ice queen slash wicked witch of the north, now threatened with deportation for an expired visa, commands her lackey to marry her, true love following along lickety-split. The rotelike working-out of the premise appears heedless of the ridiculousness and therefore increasingly ridiculous, heedless in particular of the age difference — twelve years in real life — between Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, obvious to the naked eye, the proverbial biological clock wound down to its final flagging ticks, a woman-to-man seniority not quite the strict equivalent of Larry David to Evan Rachel Wood, but still. The two stars all the same display a polished smoothness if something less than a Golden Age luster.

Chéri, a compaction of two Colette novels, is not heedless of the age difference — twenty-three years — between a brink-of-retirement Parisian courtesan and the androgynous bastard son of an already retired courtesan, the older woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) hitching her wagon to the younger man (Rupert Friend), who after six years together opts to uncouple and then recouple with a woman his own age, the bastard daughter of yet a third courtesan. Indeed, so heedful of the mismatch are writer Christopher Hampton and director Stephen Frears as to give the occasional impression that the film is actually about something more than Belle Epoque clothes, décors, hairstyles, gardens, cars. The proper tone, however, is a struggle, the hardest labor coming from the arch omniscient narrator (director Frears himself), the lilting, mincing, never-letting-up music of Alexandre Desplat, and above all Michelle Pfeiffer, drawing out her vowels in an attempt to convey jadedness and sophistication and to keep pace in that regard with the predominantly British cast, short of doing a full-blown British accent.

Year One, not so much directed by Harold Ramis as permitted to happen, is an anachronism-littered buddy comedy about a hunter and a gatherer expelled from their primitive village and followed through a Biblical landscape of Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Sodom but not Gomorrah: “What transpires within the confines of the walls of Sodom, stays within the confines of the walls of Sodom.” Michael Cera, who couldn’t remain a contemporary adolescent forever, preserves his delicate and diffident line-delivery even in the rough company of Jack Black. And Hank Azaria, as a fervent Abraham, gets a lot out of the word “God,” and he gets it out a lot, sounding like a blend of the televangelist, the man who hits his thumb with a hammer, and the cat with a fishbone in its throat. The now routine outtakes in the closing credits carry the usual implication of trying desperately at the last minute to make up for the dearth of laughs in the preceding ninety.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

The glamour and crime of Tijuana

Club Campestre abduction, cross-border prostitution, Russian-owned gym, TJ's new night scene
Next Article

Three poems for August by Dorothy Parker

With an acidic wit and keen eye for flawed humanity
Comments
6

Just a short comment on the upcoming movie "Whatever Works"... The unexpected arrives after going into the movie (pre-screening) pretty much blind as to what the movie was all about and not really knowing that much about Larry David. This movie written & directed by Woody Allen, who is not in the movie, knocked all our socks off. All I can say is, Don't miss this one folks.

June 25, 2009

I didn't think the age difference in proposal was 'obvious to the naked eye.' They're both beautiful enough for a mutual attraction. Why the hangup on age?

June 26, 2009

The Allen film is probably every bit as problematic as described, but do "literary" and "writerly" qualities necessarily prevent language from coming to life? About "Cherie," how is Michelle Pfeiffer's acting aside from her mannerly enunciation?

June 27, 2009

"...but do "literary" and "writerly" qualities necessarily prevent language from coming to life?"

Well, if you are a fan of Barthes, they certainly do not.

June 28, 2009

I'll be seeing the Woody movie in a few days, but from the few scenes I've seen, I can buy the age difference. She's enamored with the fact that he's a genius. And, in a real life, some guy that makes a lot of money or has a great deal of notoriety, can pull a younger woman.

I don't mind when it's reversed, and it's a younger man with an older woman, with the exception being Harold & Maude. Because, no teenage boy would sleep with a Ruth Gordon that's in her late 60s. Just wouldn't happen.

June 29, 2009

richinsd: not sure why you liked this movie so much. i was rather disappointed in it, and I'm an Allen fan.

i think ANY episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, has a lot more laughs than this entire movie. and all the concepts in this, have been done before (a pyschic that didn't know enough to not be under a building when something falls on her...a rant about how you need a license to fish, sell hot dogs, drive a car, but not to have a baby, etc).

if this movie had been written by some film student out of NYU, no studio would've made it.

don't get me wrong...i certainly wasn't bored watching it. when you have larry david, ed beagley jr, and woody dialog, it's certainly not a boring time. but this time out, it was disappointing.

July 1, 2009

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close