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Whatever Works

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After reading the reviews for Woody Allen’s latest, I was less than hopeful going into the theatre, and even though I think much of the criticism the film received is true, I liked it anyway.

Sure, maybe “its tired handling of so many overly familiar themes eventually proves enervating. As does the utter artificiality not only of the stereotypical characterizations, but also such devices as the repeated breaking of the fourth wall, with Boris addressing the “audience” while the other characters look on in bafflement.”  (The Hollywood Reporter)

The overly familiar themes THR is talking about are, of course, death and love and chance and humanity in a dimly lit world where we’re all dying. To dissect these themes Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) does indeed speak directly into the camera, and while it’s an overused device, I thought it more charming than hackneyed here. And as for the comment about stereotypes, this is something Woody Allen has been playing with since his heyday. Remember Paul Simon’s white-suited Tony Lacy in ANNIE HALL, not to mention all the other predictably beautiful and blissed out Californians? Or what about his characterizations of women? Take VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. The three leading ladies play his three female types: the slut, the prude, and the crazy bitch. What I’m saying is that there’s always some level of artifice in Woody Allen’s films, and I don’t think it’s something he’s unaware of. It’s simply a matter of taste.

I will allow Variety‘s comment that ”the film lacks breathing room — it rushes forward like a stage play with pre-planned exits and entrances, soliloquies and asides.” This is the layer of artifice I wasn’t as willing to accept. Playing with types is one thing, but when you play with them in such a canned way it does get little old. I think the quickness of everything helped this, but it didn’t stop many of the jokes from coming off as very rehearsed and even vaudevillian.

That said I still think Woody Allen pulls it off. It’s not great cinema but it’s fun, even interesting, and when everyone’s every-changing lives come together at the end, it’s satisfying, even if it is a little cute..