NME’s film critic Andrea Hubert writes…
Woody Allen is a great filmmaker, and his latest film, Whatever Works, is a typically watchable film. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the lead character, crotchety misanthrope Boris Yellnikoff (played by Larry David) was written into existence by Allen way back in the 1970s. For Yellnikoff is a classic Allen creation, a bitter intellectual who spends his days insulting children, breaking the fourth wall to let us know just how clever he is, and eventually entering into a mutually beneficial relationship with a ridiculously young girl that teaches him to love life again.
If you’re thinking you’ve seen this somewhere before, then you’re probably one of many increasingly disillusioned Allen fans who may well join a new club when they realise that his new film, however enjoyable it may be (and it is), is merely a rehash of the same tired old themes he’s been recycling for years. Old grumpy, often neurotic man meets young, impressionable girl with lust for life. Intellectual hilarity ensues. If you’re not familiar with this particular party, watch Crimes and Misdemeanours. Or Annie Hall. Or Manhattan. Hell, just read Allen’s autobiography. They’re all him anyway.
The casting of Larry David may well be zeitgeist genius – his Boris Yellnikoff is all the more watchable in the guise of a heightened version of the heightened version of himself he plays on Curb Your Enthusiasm – but that doesn’t alter the fact that, Match Point aside, Woody Allen keeps making the same damn film.
Well, whatever works…right? A pithy and timely reply, but the answer must now be no. Because while it’s perfectly acceptable – admirable even – for a young director to make his name following a tried and tested style or content path, sooner or later, his art must evolve. Take Wes Anderson – lo-fi tragicomedy made him a household name, but it’s not surprising that Anderson’s last film, The Darjeeling Express, performed less than stellar at the box office compared to his previous efforts The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. It’s not that he’s lost his edge as much as he’s changed the setting, but kept the contents. There are only so many disaffected young men struggling with inner turmoil that a fan can really stomach. Which is why, searingly good acting aside, Noah Baumbach’s latest film Greenberg leaves me cold. If I want classic Baumbach, I’ll watch the Squid and the Whale. What else have you got?
The list of the world’s greatest filmmakers is long, and utterly subjective but topping the list of greats are those for whom genre is barely even a word. Who would have thought that affable Steven Spielberg, the man who made ET and The Goonies had a Schindler’s List in him? Who could have predicted that Evil Dead director Sam Raimi was capable of the outstanding comic book phenomenon that was the Spiderman trilogy? Or Francis Ford Coppola, who followed up The Godfather with Peggy Sue Got Married? The list of genre defying directors with more than one thing to say to the world is endlessly impressive. Woody Allen, master of the cerebral rom com that he is, could do worse than take a long hard look at it.