Studio Name: Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Woody Allen
Starring Cast: Larry David, Patricia Clarkson
LoMANACO'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
Those of you smitten with the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm starring Seinfeld co-creator Larry David (as I am) will undoubtedly think this under-the-radar Woody Allen project, put out by independent-film-like Sony Classic Pictures, will be a wall to wall exhibition of David’s anti-social antics from the show. And believe you me – all Curb fans will go into watching this with that exact sentiment. The result was less than stellar, the problem, of course, being that everyone viewing Whatever Works simply sees David’s character in Curb up on that screen, leaving much to be desired from his overall “acting” abilities.
Let me back up a bit. I have been an absolute diehard fan of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm since its launch, and have turned countless friends, relatives, significant others and now my wife onto the show, many of whom initially didn’t have the patience to even sit through one half-hour episode nor couldn’t grasp what the whole thing was about. Seinfeld brainchild Larry David plays himself in the show, which documents days in the life of a carefree, but socially confused New Yorker-turned-Hollywood-writer that has so much money and free time, he ends up fighting with everyone he comes in contact with in order to figure out why people do what they do, and why people say what they say – you really need to “get” his character to understand Curb (which I totally do) but in each successive season of the show, his antics and shenanigans get wilder and wilder. In the show’s current season, Larry is living without his sexy-for-her-age wife, Cheryl (played by Cheryl Hines) and has begun dating girls in wheelchairs after his relationship with Vivica A. Fox came to a halt once he discovered her character has cancer. You really need to see the show from the first season to “get” Larry, but if you can relate to his character – you’ll be hooked.
Apparently attempting to cash in on the success and media excitement revolving around Curb right now, director Woody Allen returns from a hiatus of sorts to introduce Larry David into his “Jewish social drama” he’s so well known for, and on paper, it would appear to be a perfect match what with David’s “kosher heritage” that’s exploited weekly on Curb. I hadn’t heard about this film until the trailer was on a rental I had some time ago, but being a diehard Curb fan, I had to see it. As with other Sony Classic Pictures projects a la Rachel Getting Married, Whatever Works plays like a typical dry, art house independent film devoid of any real substance, in my opinion, or comedy; you can definitely tell it’s Allen behind the cameras, as his style is all over the place – such as David’s stopping throughout the film to “talk” to the audience and give a personal perspective on what’s happening onscreen. But what was hailed as a Woody Allen comedy starring Larry David which should have been side-splitting, the film was simply boring and cemented the fact that David should stick with Curb for now instead of stretching his feature film acting wings.
Whatever Works opens with David’s limping character “Boris” sitting at a New York outdoor café with two friends, bitching about this and about that as Jewish men of this age group will do so well (I am of the Judaism faith, so don’t think I’m throwing stones at glass houses) when Boris gets up from his chair and insists to his friends that people in the audience – those viewing the film – can see what they’re doing onscreen (the aforementioned Woody Allen effect) and hear what they’re talking about as they munch their popcorn and sit with their mouths agape like Neanderthal morons. He then goes into a story about how he was married once, and the woman drove him to attempt suicide – he survived the suicide, only to then separate from the wife and years later run into a homeless starving girl that begs for him to give her something to eat right outside his New York apartment’s fire escape. Boris takes her in, while he bitches and moans and belittles the girl, accusing her of being on the road to becoming a prostitute amongst other things. Eventually, the girl, as she gets comfortable in Boris’ apartment while she looks for work and tries to get her life back on track, admits to having a bit of a crush on Boris (I’ll never understand these more-than-decent looking women Larry David seems to attract like a magnet, even in episodes of Curb, because he is horrifyingly grotesque looking especially without long pants on). But the arrangement is very odd, being that the girl is so young and David’s Boris character can be her grandfather – still, Boris rejects her advances, continuing to throw harsh remark after harsh remark and Jewish sarcasm at her like gunfire…that is, right up until the moment he marries her.
Now married to “Boris,” this humble farm girl who has run away from home and found herself in New York City, never predicts her mother tracking her down and showing up at Boris’ apartment – but she does. Chaos ensues, being that the girl’s parents thought she was abducted all these years and yet here she is married to an old Jewish bald guy who limps and talks down to her and everyone else on the planet. With the mother in town and now staying at Boris’ apartment too, she is soon introduced to Boris’ friends, and ends up meeting a younger guy at a restaurant one afternoon who she thinks is much better suited for her daughter than David’s character. Of course, being the bitchy, interfering mother-in-law from hell, she wants to make an introduction for her daughter to this handsome actor with the seductive accent, but needs to do it behind Boris’ back. Meanwhile, the mother falls for one of Boris’ friends, and then ends up getting into a threesome situation with another guy that lives with him, where they’re all sleeping together in bizarre orgies. Things couldn’t get worse until Boris’ wife’s father now shows up at Boris’ door too, tracking down his daughter whom he thought was abducted as well. Another “Jesus freak” from the Bible belt, the girl’s father is just as nutty as the mother is, almost passing out and praising the Lord to save him after he meets his daughter’s new much older husband. If you’re already wondering where this is all going, don’t worry – I did the same.
Allen is trying to make some kind of point here, with what’s going on between all these characters, but much like stupid, forgettable films such as The Women, it’s simply lost. After pursuing the girl for some time due to her mother’s insistent pushing, the heartthrob actor eventually wins her over and she wants to separate from Boris (like you couldn’t see this coming) – you can almost feel sorry for David’s character here, but alas…things bounce back, as Boris attempts to commit suicide for a second time by throwing himself out of his window, and fails, by falling on a woman and her dog. The woman survives, and after hitting it off in her hospital room, Boris discovers the psychic that broke his fall is really the right lady for him. The film concludes with all these couples – Boris and his new psychic chick, the young girl ex-wife and the actor, her mother and the two men she’s having threesomes with and the father who’s now gay and living with a man he picked up at a bar – celebrating New Year’s Eve, but it leaves you scratching your head and wondering what the point of the film was as a whole. I suppose there’s one message here that can be considered valuable, that being the notion that fate drops people and situations into your life when you least expect them – and I for one can definitely relate to that, given the story of how I met my now wife during a time that both of our fathers were ill in the same hospital, not to mention how I met all my ex’s – but beyond that, I just didn’t dig Woody Allen’s foray into casting Larry David as a disgruntled, hobbling Jew who goes from attractive wife to suicide to attractive very young wife to attempted suicide to meeting the “right” woman in the form of a psychic.
My advice is to stick with Curb Your Enthusiasm.
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