Tuesday, 23 November 2010

WHATEVER WORKS DVD review

Out now on DVD is the long awaited pairing of Larry David and Woody Allen.
Watch the trailer and read my review, after the jump...


Boris (Larry David) is a recent divorcee, quickly turning onto one of those crazy old chess playing men you always see in films set in New York. Boris' life takes an unexpected turn when he takes in Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a beautiful but naive young girl off the street. Their relationship is similar to the one between Allen and Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan, although her character's wide eyed innocence is more akin to Mira Sorvino's role in Mighty Aphrodite.


After an introduction that focuses on Boris' foibles (he sings Happy Birthday when washing his hands as a timing mechanism) the story jumps ahead to when Boris and Melody are married and living in perceived harmony. That is until Melody's mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) turns up on their doorstep, none to happy about her daughter's marriage to this much older man. Despite her disapproval of Boris, she quickly becomes accustomed to a New York bourgeois way of life, sleeping around with multiple partners and taking up photography.


It's not too much of an over exaggeration to say that Larry David has only ever really played one character; Larry David. I'm not saying he can't act, but he's known for playing the neurotic, slightly obsessive compulsive caricature of himself he does on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has actually worked with Woody Allen before, having brief appearances in Radio Days and Allen's segment of New York Stories. Of course thanks to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David is now an almost household name, and the pairing of his comedy style with Allen's was one I was greatly looking forward to.


The leading man in Woody Allen's films is usually just a stand-in for Woody himself, and often have a bad habit of adopting Allen's patter and mannerisms as a way of emulating him (Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda, I'm looking at you). Luckily for this film, Larry David's own neurosis' run deep enough to over power any drifts towards Allen parody. Larry David's humour works best when he's being confrontational, and here Boris has a habit of breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. He's actually quite pleasant and engaging in these moments, and it's quite distracting when all of the other characters ridicule him for talking to us.


If I was to look deeper into Allen's motivations behind the story and perhaps find a parallel with his own life (which I'm going to do), it's about coming to terms with living with a much younger woman. Eventually, the romantic relationship is going to sometimes revert to what appears more like a father/daughter relationship. This is a subject Allen has touched on throughout his career, but the motivations for doing so seem must have changed.


Despite my admiration of Patricia Clarkson (recently so good in Easy A), the film undergoes a drastic change when she appears and the story shifts away from Boris. In those first twenty minutes I had numerous belly laughs at Larry David, but he suddenly becomes a secondary character in his own story, behind the romantic prospects of Melody. Melody is a sweet enough girl, pretty enough to fall on her feet despite being of less than average intelligence. Like a lot of Allen's leading lady's she's got heart, but she's a tad irritating without Boris around to shoot down her 'gosh, darn it' idioms.


The changes in Melody's parents upon their arrival in New York really bugged me as being wholly unrealistic. I can imagine that the lure of the bright lights, big city lifestyle can change a persons mentality, but it's to the films detriment that the New Yorkers assume they've had it right all along, and the rest of the world just needs to catch up. It's a somewhat insulting look at small town folk and small town values, told from the point of view of jaded world weary New Yorkers. I'd like to think that its approach is satirical, that they know this viewpoint is ridiculous... but I don't think so. As the film progresses we end up with a large array of characters, and whilst everyone of them undergoes a change, none of them show any growth.


There's laughs to be had with Larry David's acerbic Boris, but as the story progresses, the rest of the ensemble fails to deliver him the ammunition needed to keep up the comic momentum. Hopefully this is just a trial run for Allen and David, as there's aspects of their pairing that really works. I just hope the next time they have a better story.


Verdict

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