Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Woody Allen - never disappoints, except when he does.

I'd been so looking forward to seeing 'Whatever Works' too. It wouldn't have mattered either way that it got critical acclaim here ("Allen back on form!" - what again?) but, on previous experience, I'd been expecting to really like it anyway. As it turned out..... oh dear, what a downer! It must only be me, though. His trilogy of London films made over the last few years were all panned by the critics. Indeed, I recently heard 'Match Point' referred to by a BBC critic as his worst film ever - a mighty big claim, but I really liked it. Same goes for 'Cassandra's Dream' which no one else apart from me seemed to admire. (The third film, 'Scoop', didn't get a theatrical release here, so I'm eagerly watching for it to appear on TV.) But this 'Whatever Works' is back in his familiar NY milieu. Apart from his too infrequent brilliant flashes of wit in the script it largely left me cold. Noteworthy is that in the final few minutes there's a gay character, though the situation and what it develops into in the very final scene is treated so ineptly and rings so false as to jar. I say 'noteworthy' because it's Allen's most up-front acknowledgement that gays exist at all since Meryl Streep played the lesbian mother and Allen's character's former partner in 'Manhattan'. Even just mentioning gays in his other films is very rare and never more than just a passing comment. But I'd given up on 'Whatever Works' long before these final moments anyway.
However, having said all that, I definitely am pleased to admit that the release of any Woody Allen film is a real 'event' for me. I've found that out of all his prolific output there is only a small handful that do not repay further viewing(s) though this latest film will, regretfully, be in that category.
I know that most critics and, perhaps viewers too, consider that his best films are 'Annie Hall' and 'Manhattan', both of which I also like a lot (though in the former, the scene of the escaped lobster in the kitchen makes me uncomfortable - Laugh at me if you must!) His own favourite in terms of the finished product coming closest to his conception is 'The Purple Rose of Cairo', also pretty good. For me though, his summit of achievement has got to be 'Hannah and her Sisters'. An excellent script that feels 'true', unbeatable ensemble acting (with Michael Caine in particular never having been better and fully deserving his Oscar), great soundtrack music choices....so much going for it that I can readily forgive the too-pat 'happy ending' given to Allen's own character. I'd give it an easy 9/10. But 'Whatever Works'....well, 'cos I want to be generous, a modest 4 at most, just for those all-too-few precious moments!


  1. Ray, Glad that you had the choice of seeing this. Just like "I Love You Philip Morris," it never opened here, the capital of NYS. Given the choice, I probably wouldn't have seen it as I am not a Woody Allen fan nor a Larry David fan. I am probably the only person who disliked "Annie Hall." I did like the sophistication of "Manhattan" especially the dialogue e.g. "Gossip is the new pornography." I am glad that you are able to find something to see. The movies that are playing now are really bad. The last one that I saw was "The Last Station" with Mirren. Just ordered the dvd and look forward to seeing it again. What a performance! The crime is Bullock took the Oscar. It's not about acting, it's publicity.

  2. Thanks, Paul. I'm astonished that 'Whatever Works' wasn't shown where you live (Albany, then?) - indeed any Woody Allen film not opening there surprises me. He is very much an acquired taste and I can well understand why he gets some peoples hackles up. Actually I quite disliked 'Manhattan' the first time I saw it back in the late 70s but the more I see it the better it seems to get.
    I saw 'The Last Station' and was very impressed, though I went with a critic's corrective 'fact' ringing in my ears, namely that Tolstoy's wife in reality had been totally loopy instead of the understandably frustrated character as portrayed in the film. But if that's really the way it was, which film does NOT use artistic licence to make a story more attractive? Anyway, as I say, I did like the film.
    I made a point of NOT seeing the Sandra Bullock as along with films about animals, films about sport (particularly American sport, simply because I can't understand what's happening) have become no-nos with me. I read that Ms B. started out as a serious classical actress but seems to be another one whose primary motivation now seems to be making money no matter what the film is. But she's one of many - and we have no fewer such actors on this side of the pond.