December 2023

Whatever Works, Woody

By Jennifer Wright

Woody Allen’s new film Whatever Works proved to be a kick-off highlight of The TriBeCa Film Festival. In addition to the notable cast members, the premiere drew celebrities such as Debra Messing, Robert DeNiro, Mary Kate Olsen, Harvey Keitel and Charlie Rose. However, the true star of the evening was Woody Allen himself.


Everyone at the Festival seemed universally delighted that Woody’s latest film was set in his native New York once more. His most recent movies, such as Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona were set abroad – and have earned him great critical reception.  However, everyone shared Debra Messing’s sentiment when she said, “If there’s a film maker who captures New York, it’s Woody Allen”.


Watching the film, I couldn’t help feeling that it very closely followed the plot of another Woody Allen movie set in Manhattan, namely, Manhattan. The plot revolves around a relationship between a beautiful young girl and a neurotic older man. Lovely Southern belle Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) moves to Manhattan, only to fall head over heels in love with tortured genius Boris. (Larry David). Melody shows up on his doorstep with no place to stay in the city. Surprise! Boris immediately allows her to move in. The relationship progresses until Melody’s very disapproving mother (Patricia Clarkson) arrives, and attempts to derail the relationship by setting Melody up with a young man (Henry Cavill) who falls in love with her almost as quickly as she fell in love with Boris. Patricia Clarkson is truly a delight at Melody’s mother – she finds herself quickly seduced by the bohemian nature of the big city, and abandons her many prejudices as the movie progresses.


In addition to Patricia Clarkson’s work, I was also very impressed by Evan Rachel Wood’s performance. I’ve associated her dark characters, such as the one she played in Thirteen. But, fresh off her wonderful performance in The Wrestler, she carries off the role of Southern belle charmingly. It seems Woody Allen has, yet again, managed to coax a nuanced performance from her, just as he has with so many young actresses in the past.


Despite these strong points, I had difficulty understanding why Larry David appeared to be attempting to play Woody Allen. While I haven’t necessarily loved some of Woody Allen’s substitutions for his own iconic character in the past (remember Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity or Jason Biggs in Anything Else ?) I’ve understood them, as the role necessitated a younger man. Given that the story here revolves around a younger woman falling in love with an older man, I was baffled by why Woody Allen wasn’t playing Boris himself. Certainly, it’s not an age issue.


Nonetheless, it’s lovely to see that Woody Allen has once again fallen in love with his native Manhattan.