Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nog and Woody and Larry David (with spoilers)

The combination of Woody Allen and Larry David seems inspired, at first glance, the legendary "neurotic urban Jew" handing over the reins to perhaps the current master of that domain, Mr. David. But the result, Whatever Works, is middling at best. Apparently it's a project that Woody wrote long ago, for Zero Mostel, and rejiggered recently for David (plugging in an Obama reference and some gay marriage gags). And it definitely feels like a throwback, which I suppose is not a major problem if it's funny, if it recalls the inspired silliness of the older, "funnier" Allen films. But it rarely inspires more than a few laughs (occasionally, David does absolutely nail one of Allen's patented one-liners).

David plays Boris, a more misanthropic version of the usual Allen character, a former near-Nobel Prize winner in physics who now bides his time hanging out with the local cranks and railing about how he's the only intelligent person in a random universe full of "inchworms" (his term for anyone less intelligent than himself, which is pretty much everyone, he believes). As near as I can tell, from what I know of Allen, Boris pretty much embodies the Woodman's own personal philosophy (everything is ultimately meaningless, so you might as well do "whatever works"). The film (largely sweet beneath Boris' angry exterior) charts his unexpected love with a very young Southern runaway (Evan Rachel Wood, good as always), whose optimistic worldview impacts his (and vice versa). Unlike an average romantic comedy, the unlikely couple does not, however, prove right for each other, although everyone does end up preposterously happy in other equally implausible scenarios (to enforce the view of "randomness" over "destiny"). The goofy happy ending is fine in itself, consistent with its philosophical underpinning, but pairing Boris up with a nice woman at the end still feels a little wrong, since Boris is most happy alone, shaking his fist at everyone and everything. But perhaps we're supposed to project ahead, to the moment when Boris will no doubt do what he's done with his previous relationships: throw himself out the nearest window in an effort to escape the world that infuriates him so much.

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