Thursday, April 02, 2009

Whatever Works at ShoWest

Here's another report from Film Experience regular Rosengje from sunny Vegas where ShoWest is closing. She has just seen Woody Allen's latest Whatever Works (previously discussed here)! I am green with envy. Let's jump right in to her slightly spoilerish thoughts.
In many ways, Whatever Works is an amalgam of all of the neuroses and preoccupations that have defined Woody Allen's previous films. Larry David plays Boris, a misanthrope who fled his "rational" marriage to live downtown in isolation, teaching chess to children through methods that involve repeated name-calling and knight-throwing. Boris's life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a runaway from Mississippi. Melodie is eventually followed by her mother (Patricia Clarkson) and father (Ed Begley, Jr.).

Patricia Clarkson storms into the movie after approximately 40 minutes, and plays a role in many ways comparable to Penélope Cruz's tempestuous Oscar-winning Maria Elena. While I was initially skeptical of Allen's treatment of Wood as a young Lolita, Clarkson actually plays the much more sexualized character. After showing up on Boris's doorstep in a hot pink ensemble (scrunchy included!) fit for the Southern pageant circuit, she is quickly awakened to the culture of New York. Naturally, this involves sex and art. In an interesting inversion of the much discussed relationship between ScarJo, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Clarkson moves in with two men without giving it a second thought. Her character transitions from praising Jesus to opening an exhibit of nude collages. Clarkson is dynamic and sexy and once again demonstrates her unbeatable range. I don't think it is any stretch to consider her worthy of this year's Oscar race.

Patty sandwich! Apparently Woody is really into threesomes now.
The rest of the cast is also effective, pulling the humor out of frequently dark material. David's character first seems like the typical Allen prototype, but there is a bitterness to him that reminded me more of Max von Sydow in Hannah and Her Sisters. Evan Rachel Wood is very likable, but the vitality of her performance is trounced by the arrival of the inimitable Clarkson. Begley Jr. gives a hilarious turn, and Henry Cavill is both endearing and smarmy as a late love interest for Melodie.

The biggest stylistic change Allen makes in this film is having Boris directly address the audience. The film opens with a lengthy treatise on the character's views on death and the cretins that populate the world. We end with a similar address, but this time it is tinged with a kind of optimism unique to Woody Allen. The character's refrain of "whatever works" takes on a slightly sweet quality. I suspect audiences and critics will debate the sincerity of its happy ending. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and believe it provides the same level of insight into the director's fears and desires that many pegged on Deconstructing Harry.
I'm encouraged to hear rosengje's positivity regarding Patty Clarkson (she who really needs an Oscar) but maybe she'll have to get there from Shutter Island instead? Would they really reward a similar role to last year's winner to get back-to-back Woody Allen Best Supporting Actress citations?

Film Experience podcast guest Katey also liked what she saw, speaking highly of Evan Rachel Wood's performance, too. I am so eager to see this. I have to have my annual Woody.
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21 comments:

Wayne B. said...

YAY! YAY! Wouldn't that be amazing if Patricia Clarkson really wins an Oscar a year from now? I can't wait to see this one now. :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds great!
Can't wait to see Kidman next year in the new Woody Allen film as well as the new John Cameron Mitchell film, Rabbit Hole.

Krauthammer said...

If this is being compared to Deconstructing Harry One of Allen's all time best imo, I'm there.

adelutza said...

I can't wait to see this. Looks like a great summer at the movies.

felicio said...

I think it will indeed boost Clarkson'chance for Shutter Island. I heard her part in Scorsese's film is intriguing, and she is one of these actresses the Academy is dying to reward, even in a small part if it's in a prestige movie

RichterScale said...

It's happened before, you know? Back-to-back Best Supporting Actress winners in Woody Allen films, it happened once before in 1994 and 1995, and if Patricia Clarkson is anywhere as good here, it might happen again. Dianne Wiest won the OScar for Bulletts Over Broadway, followed by Mira Sorvino winning for Mighty Aphrodite (whom I just saw and loved). So, it could happen again. I can't wait to see this film.

Tim said...

I'm wondering what music is used in the film? Jazz, classical or original score. He hasn't had the budget for jazz recordings for 5 years, but you would think being back in NYC he might find a way. Any word?

This sounds great though - thanks for the scoop. Best since Deconstructing Harry is a positive sign for several reasons, first being that's the last real "Woody" film he's made and second of all anyone comparing it to that film knows their Woody Allen material, which means this isn't just some schmuck passing along word on some famous director's latest film.

Drew said...

I wasn't excited at all about this until now... thanks for posting that!! I'm dying to see Patricia Clarkson in a role like that, and like some of the other commenters I absolutely loved Deconstructing Harry.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Great comments - can't wait to see this if Woody's still on form. And a top performance from Patty should always be cherished.

I've got to disagree with you, Nat, on one point. I think if Patty gets a nod this year it will be from Whatever Works and not from Shutter Island.

I read the book recently and apart from Rachel Solando and Dolores Chanel (Emily Mortimer and Michelle Williams) the female characters are pretty much one note - either solid nurses or wacky patients with little room to shine.

Of course Patty can do well with very little but I suspect she'll just be a familiar face in the crowd in Shutter Isalnd.

Janice said...

//The biggest stylistic change Allen makes in this film is having Boris directly address the audience.//

Different from VCB, perhaps, but that definitely sounds like old-school Woody.

Catherine said...

When I read about this film on the WCW countdown, I was initially doubtful. But now I'm totally psyched. Patty for Oscar glory!

NATHANIEL R said...

RUNS... people keep telling me that but about a year ago Patty was saying in interviews that she was absolutely psyched about her part in Shutter Island and she sounded so enthused about it that I figured it must be juicy. It's not like she hasn't had terrifically meaty parts already. maybe she's got a composite character or something? Or a tiny role with huge impact?

Kidmaniac said...

Patty's part in Shutter Island is quiet important one but it's really really REALLY small. She's in only one page! And absolutely not Viola Davis thing. (She just explains important secret of the island.) I agree that she'll be just a familiar face.

Wayne B. said...

What a year for Patricia Clarkson. Two movies: one directed by Woody Allen, the other Martin Scorsese. Two directors with an eye for "actressing on the edge." If the "Shutter Island" role turns out to be a glorified cameo then at least her "Whatever Works" campaign will be free of competition. I still think she was snubbed back in '98, '02.

Adam M. said...

I so had Clarkson pegged for an Oscar nod the second she signed on for the film.

*strokes own ego*

karen said...

So what do ya'll think about the pairing of Kidman and Mitchell ?

Nine + Rabbit Hole + Woody Allen Summer Project

Is there a more interesting filmography ?

NO

rosengje said...

The comparison to Deconstructing Harry was more about how personal some of the material felt. The two movies are very different tonally. Whatever Works has a lot of very broad comedy, but equally dark moments of reflection.

Also: I swear Jamie is a girls' name too, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NATHANIEL R said...

That it is. My apologies!!!!

Katey said...

I'm not allowed to say much about the film now that I've seen it as a whole, but yeah, Clarkson is aces here. Evan Rachel Wood is great too, in a role that could easily slip into stereotype, but Clarkson is a much likelier Oscar nominee.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Ah man, I am so excited to see this film! What could be better than Woody back in New York?. And Larry David, too - that's just plain exciting. Although it does leave me wondering if we'll ever see Mr. Allen on screen again.