I don’t usually write reviews of films I’ve seen, but after a public debate (on Facebook) with my son, I feel compelled to explain my feelings about the new Woody Allen film in a larger than Twitter-sized forum.
In the context of Woody’s career, it would be easy to dismiss “Whatever Works” as a minor piece. The plot makes very little sense, the characters are all “types,” and the world the film takes place in is as realistic as Seinfeld’s apartment building.
But that’s the point. Woody is just having fun. From the moment the fourth wall is broken in the first few minutes of the film, you know that we not meant to take the film seriously. But the big moment for me is the first time there’s a knock at the door and an unexpected guest enters. Does anyone know anyone who lives in NYC who doesn’t have a doorbell, or intercom, or at least a peephole they would use before opening the door? As cloistered as Woody’s life has been, even he would know that…or if not, someone on the set would have pointed it out. The “knock on the door” is is one of the oldest devices of pure farce. The apartment where a large part of the film takes place might as well be the set for a play, tailor made for unexpected entrances and exits. The New York portrayed in this film is about as real as the Russia portrayed in “Love and Death.” It’s all about the gag.
Not every joke in the film works, but this is some of the densest comic writing that Woody has done in a long time. And he still knows how to wring a punch line out to maximum effect. Bottom line is I laughed more than I have at a movie in a long time.
One final point. Even though every character in the film is portrayed with heightened ugliness–each one is stupider, cruder and/or more horrifying than the next–the movie actually leads to very sweet, if simplistic place. Happiness in life and love is mostly found in unexpected places–that’s what the movie (and the title) is saying. While this could (and will) be read by some to be yet another rationalization of Woody’s own life choices, it seemed to me to be coming from a more genuine place. I’ve always been a sucker for that kind of sentiment. I just never thought I’d see it in a Woody Allen film.