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Whatever Works: 40 Years of Woody Allen and Neurosis

Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K

Woody Allen delivers an A-OK new movie.

ImageIn the past 40 years, only 4 years have passed without a Woody Allen directed movie in theatres. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure no other director can claim such a thing. It’s prolific. The man is a work-a-holic, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

He gets a bad rap these days. Reviewers always say that he’s not as good as he used to be. Or in the occasion that he does put out a great movie (like Match Point), they say he’s back and suddenly expect more from him again. But let’s just think about this for a second. He has been working constantly for 40 years. Forty years. That’s a long time. His latest, Whatever Works, is in fact his 40th film. And somehow everyone expects brilliance from every frame. Is it even possible to make 40 great films? Is it possible when expectations are set so high?

I’m not a fan of judging a film against the director’s last (or his last 39 as the case may be). I think every movie should stand on it’s own. Comparisons are impossible to avoid, especially when the filmmaker seems to be treading on familiar territory. As great as Match Point is, it’s still brings to mind Crimes & Misdemeanors. And you can find other parallels, I’m sure, in all of his most recent films. But watching Whatever Works, which I actually really liked, I was struck by how even when he’s not at his best, he’s still a lot better that most. Whatever Works isn’t a good movie by any stretch of imagination. But it’s well-acted, and there are times when it’s quite clever. His dialogue has always been his strength, and even as he gets older and sort of loses touch with what people want to see in a movie (enough with the older men and the younger women—we get it), he hasn’t lost that ear for what people really sound like when they talk to each other.

What’s great about Whatever Works is that it’s a nice movie. It’s about people finding themselves in places they never expected. Larry David kvetches in the Woody Allen role, and the women are appropriately stupid and/or whorish, like in all of his films. Patricia Clarkson, who will always be one of my favorites, is outright hilarious, and I wonder why the movie wasn’t just about her. Allen returned home to New York after a four movie hiatus in Europe, and it was about time. It was nice to take him out of his comfort zone, but it’s also nice to have him back. This is the place he knows and more than anywhere else, it’s the place that knows him. It won’t go down in the annals of film, and most reviewers will probably pan it, but it’s fun, and what else do you want from a movie? Not every movie has to be a great masterpiece.

Let’s face it, of his 40 movies, how many are really truly great? Annie Hall, Husbands and Wives, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan. And then there is a handful of good ones. Bullets Over Broadway, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Interiors, Match Point, Sweet and Lowdown, Mighty Aphrodite. There are only really a few clunkers: Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, Celebrity, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. I’ve left some out, obviously, on each of these lists, but mostly everything I haven’t already mentioned fits into the just all right category, along with Whatever Works. Most directors don’t get to make 5 really great movies, let alone 12 pretty good ones. So let’s give the guy some credit. He’s been nominated 21 one times at the Oscars, for goodness sake. He’s 73-years-old, and it’s possible that his best days are behind him, but he’s still out there doing what he loves. Regardless of what you think of Whatever Works, or Vicki Cristina Barcelona, or even Match Point, you feel his love of movies in every frame. You don’t get that when you plop down your $10 for The Proposal or that loud Michael Bay movie. So let’s just appreciate it for what it is, and stop expecting so much from the guy for a change. Maybe you’ll start enjoying the movies better.

Author: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K

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