Woody Allen has directed 40 films in his career (says the internet), although I think it’s actually more. It depends if you count movies that had multiple directors. At any rate, I’ve seen about 38 of them. I tend to bring this fact up a lot. I like to think it’s not out of some kind of weird vanity.
Let me tell you something you already know: having seen 38 Woody Allen movies is not cool. Bragging about this would be like bragging that you once ate a whole stick of butter. Some clown in the back would call you a god and everyone else would say, “why?” Incidentally, I’ve also eaten a stick of butter.
The reason I bring it up at all is to say that maybe Woody Allen’s greatest triumph isn’t the classic Annie Hall, the iconic Manhattan or the crafty Purple Rose of Cairo. Some might certainly make a case for the comedies that started it all: Bananas, Sleeper, Love and Death, all very funny. Certainly it’s not the more recent bright spot of either Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or the mostly-missed Cassandra’s Dream, all of which are fine films, clever, pretty, and cagey, respectively. And even I wouldn’t try to nominate Interiors, brilliant and underrated as it is.
Maybe Woody Allen’s greatest triumph isn’t just that he made ALL these movies or that a few of them are great. And maybe it isn’t that he has made 40 and is still going at age 73. Maybe it’s that from top to bottom (with a couple exceptions), his movies are some of the most watchable things on Netflix. Maybe Woody Allen’s greatest triumph is that I, at 23 years old, have seen 38 of his movies.
Whatever Works, in many ways, is emblematic of his recent status. The story follows an acerbic physicist (Larry David) in New York who begrudgingly takes in a young southern girl (Evan Rachel Wood – for whom I swoon). She’s in awe of him and he despises her. As time goes on, he gets to like her. Who wins in the end? New York City. Who else?
To get one thing straight, this movie wouldn’t be receiving nearly the criticism it is, had it been directed by someone else. It would be hailed as a quality summer comedy, as entertaining as it is ultimately forgettable. Because it’s Allen, critics will somehow turn it into the opposite by painstakingly and repeatedly reminding people of its faults. The movie is flawed, no doubt about it, but never in ways that hinders its ease and enthusiasm. It’s still clever, funny, bright, and over a bit too quickly.
He wrote the script to this movie in the 70s, but his efforts to modernize it (adding Obama references) are pretty seamless. In fact it’s reminiscent of both Mighty Aphrodite and the similarly-named Anything Else, neither of which feel dated. (What?! Similar to his other works, you say? Not Woody. No!).
If you end up seeing it, and I think you probably should, anchor your watching around Patricia Clarkson, who plays the uptight religious mother who ends up a bandana-wearing photographer. She’s brilliant along with the rest of the supporting cast. Will it make any best-of-year lists? No, but it has enough wit to make it worthwhile. If you want to see it, take my advice, forget who is behind the camera and just watch the fucking movie. You’ll probably enjoy yourself.
Starts Friday, June 26 at the Embarcadero Center Cinema. Info.