After Woody Allen’s latest, Whatever Works, one wonders whether or not he’s taunting his disappointed fans by throwing their judgments back in their faces. Otherwise, why would he have Evan Rachel Wood, his latest Lolita, prancing around in hot pants and pigtails and throwing herself at Larry David, a man old enough to be her grandfather? At first, one writhes in one’s seat uncomfortably, particularly when Wood, playing a hayseed from Mississippi, waxes lustfully about “makin’ luv”. One wonders, in fact, why Woody doesn’t just stop all the pretense and move headlong into soft core porn?
He’s an artist, it’s true, and he’ll always be an artist, but his continual obsession with a handful of romantic scenarios are polluting his films of late. This was especially true of Whatever Works, a film that has to be among the worst, if not THE worst, Woody Allen film.
Reworked from old material (or so it goes), Whatever Works tells the story of Boris Yellnikov (David) who sees the absolute worst humanity has to offer and only just barely survives it, his suicide attempt is botched when he lands on a canopy. Into his life comes Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Wood), a teenage runaway living on the streets of New York. She begs him to give her some food and shelter. At first he tells his friends she’s not very attractive but eventually, Melodie throws herself at Boris enough so that he finally relents, that is, he doesn’t let his guilt hold him back from shacking up with a teen.
They get married and of course, as is usual with Woody Allen movies, older man teaches younger girl everything in the world there is to know. There is just one catch here: Boris’ ideas on the world are wrong. It is as if Boris is really Alvy Singer if that film hadn’t been re-edited into Annie Hall. Allen’s Oscar winning masterpiece was going to be a film about a man who hated life and feared people. Thankfully, someone had the sense to realize the movie wasn’t about Alvy but about Annie.
The film resembles, more than anything, an Allen short story, the kind of funny scenarios he used to cook up before he became a much more serious force to be reckoned with. The trouble is, old Woody is not current Woody and all of the baggage he’s been collecting over the past few decades weighs him down. This is why it seems almost like Allen is toying with his fans – taunting them to dare criticize him for delivering yet another very young girl prancing around in miniskirts and hot pants.
Whatever Works in 1978 would be funny. It still wouldn’t be good but it would at least be funny. In 2009 it just seems creepy. Beyond that, none of the scenarios work, nor are they believable in any way. The only good jokes are told by David, who manages to transcend the Woody Allen clichés. The truth about Woody Allen is that he can’t quite stop his pattern of doing two films a year, or one film a year. The pace is really what drives the repetitiveness. He doesn’t stop long enough to ask himself if he has anything new to say.