It doesn’t seem like Woody Allen could possibly be worried about what we think of him. But with Whatever Works, he seems kind of angry, so just in case, he’s put Larry David in the line of fire. Normally, when an actor isn’t used for anything more than a mouthpiece, it’s fairly annoying. But it’s become exponentially less tolerable to watch Woody Allen do the things he’s always done on screen (never mind off) and it seems as if he’s aware of that (he hasn’t appeared as the lead in one of his own movies since 2002’s Hollywood Ending.) And maybe this realization is somehow allowing him to say some things he’s been holding back from us. Because Boris Yelnikov (Larry David) is a more caustic, more elitist, more aggressively insulting (of everyone, including those of us in the theater) embodiment of the self-obsessed character Allen has inhabited himself over the years.
This might be the only way in which Whatever Works strays from the Allen template of old. And really, it’s more of an amplification than it is a new direction. And much has been made of this. Recalling Kenneth Branagh’s ridiculous impression of the director in Celebrity seems to be unavoidable in trying to find Larry David’s place in the line of Woody stand-ins. Recalling how he’s explored the same themes countless times before and to much the same conclusion seems a necessary slight for anyone searching for some way in which to respond to the barrage of insults they just endured at the hands of a man they desperately want to love the way they once did. But he hasn’t made this movie since Mighty Aphrodite. And it’s not as if I’m advocating that a writer can distract us for fifteen or so years with flawed meta-ensemble pieces (Deconstructing Harry, Hollywood Ending), painfully clichéd suspense dramas (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream) and brief glimpses of earlier brilliance (Everyone Says I Love You, Small Time Crooks) only to come back and serve the same thing to us again and not expect to have to hear about it. But it seems unfair for our memories to collectively end somewhere around the early 90’s and then constantly hold a person’s new product in the relatively glaring light of what came before and expect it to not seem a dim reflection of that time.
Some of these detractors have even gone so far as to suggest Woody Allen curb his efficiency and maybe not put out a movie every year (or more) the way he’s done ever since the two year gap between Love And Death and Annie Hall. Never mind that years of inactivity do not equal quality in any way (i.e., Terence Malick and Francis Ford Coppola), but it’s the promise that there’s another 90 minutes of whatever hodgepodge of stars he’s decided to stir together in his usual recipe that ought to allow us to shrug off any misstep he might take along the way. That’s how we got over the appalling dullness of Scoop so quickly anyway.