Mixed-to-positive notices for ‘Whatever Works’

Posted by · 5:09 pm · April 23rd, 2009

Evan Rachel Wood in Whatever WorksEven with the success of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” having partially righted the course of Woody Allen’s career, I can’t help holding my breath when the reviews roll in for his latest effort. Few auteurs inspire more haphazard uses of the term “return to form” (roughly applied to anything that doesn’t go completely off the rails from the word go), with so many critics seeming to forget that Allen’s best form is, well, anyone’s best form. (“Vicky” was a delight, to be sure, but Barcelona is a long way away from “Manhattan,” if you will.)

In the case of “Whatever Works,” which just opened the Tribeca fest, the trade reviews — while uniformly encouraging — vary between gently disciplining expectations and wildly inflating them. Performing the latter task is David D’Arcy’s all-out rave in Screen International,which declares the film Allen’s best in over a decade:

Writing a New York story and shooting at home has given Allen a sureness to his voice. The dialogue here has a familiar ring yet a crackling freshness … Whatever Works transcends Allen formulas thanks to David, who is taller, balder and more foul-mouthed than the usual types Allen himself has played. Spitting out his lines, David finds a deeper nastiness here than the everyday bile of his character on the autobiographical Curb Your Enthusiasm. Allen does wonders with a character who isn’t seeking to be loved.

There is praise too for Evan Rachel Wood, with D’Arcy invoking a favourable comparison to “Manhattan’s” Mariel Hemingway. Wood and fellow female co-star Patricia Clarkson are also singled out in the Hollywood Reporter’s more muted review, which suggests the ladies, like Penelope Cruz last year, could ultimately pull the film into awards territory:

While this comedy starring Larry David doesn’t break any new ground for its creator in either style or content, it features enough genuine laughs to give it decent commercial traction … The film does, however, serve as an excellent vehicle for both Wood, utterly charming here, and Clarkson, displaying her considerable comic talents. Both actresses, like so many others from Allen’s previous films, may well wind up garnering significant attention come the next awards season.

Variety offers a similarly conflicted take, delighting in the film’s “witty one-liners and wondrously convoluted tirades,” but also declaring it “forced” and lacking in “breathing room.” Wood, however, once more comes through with flying colours — I’m glad to see that, after a few years in the wilderness, she seems to be regaining some career momentum.

Whether the same can be said for Allen is unclear from this mixed batch of trade reviews — the answer may yet lie in the broadsheets. (On a side note, how did I miss until now the fact that Harris Savides is the DP on this one? Whatever his own creative ups and downs, Woody continues to have the most unimpeachable taste in collaborators.)

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9 responses so far

  • 1 4-23-2009 at 6:07 pm

    James D. said...

    Woody Allen has never made a bad movie.

  • 2 4-23-2009 at 6:30 pm

    Jester said...

    Yes he has:
    Shadows and Fog
    The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
    Hollywood Ending
    Melinda and Melinda
    Cassandra’s Dream
    Vicky Christina Barcelona

    If this were his entire resume, nobody would want to work with him. However, his great films certainly outweigh the above list (Manhattan being one of the all time great films) and he is a great director. He is kind of burnt out though. I still hope Whatever Works is good, as I always hope his new release will be good.

  • 3 4-23-2009 at 7:58 pm

    GoldenNuggetLaughlin said...

    Nobody could send ball in a homerun every time. this is a hit, maybe a double. but still is better than been punched out.

  • 4 4-23-2009 at 9:45 pm

    Troy said...

    Jester, I have only seen the last two films you listed, but I’d hardly call them bad films. In fact, I thought VCB was one of his finer works.

  • 5 4-23-2009 at 10:22 pm

    brian said...

    Hey, Melinda and Melinda wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t particularly good in any way. Cassandra’s Dream, on the other hand, was pretty awful. I liked VCB a lot, save for that voice over.

  • 6 4-24-2009 at 12:30 am

    jess said...

    Celebrity is a good film you …

  • 7 4-24-2009 at 3:45 am

    Brando said...

    VCB is a very good film. And every actor wants to have a chance to work with Woody. He is sort of a legend that don’t stop to write wonderful scripts every single year. That is amazing.

  • 8 4-24-2009 at 2:34 pm

    tom said...

    About the “voiceover” in “Vicky…” Very few people realized it stylistically copied the prose of Ernest Hemingway which considering the film’s setting, was quite a good joke. Woody’s made a few so-so films, most in the past 10 years, but never, I think, a bad one. And I am very much looking forward to this one. The one clip I saw (search hard for it) betwen Larry and Wood at amusement pier (?) was wonderfully crude and outrageous.

  • 9 4-24-2009 at 5:49 pm

    Fielding said...

    For me, Woody has only made 3 films I consider failures. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex…., Small Time Crooks and Curse of the Jade Scorpion. That’s it. The rest range from good to absolutely sublime.

    By the way, Roger Friedman is another who loves “Whatever Works”. The link to his review is down, but he thinks it’s a “comic masterpiece” and that Clarkson, Wood and Allen all deserve Oscar noms.