There’s no question that any film starring Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David has got an instant audience, whether it’s a Woody Allen creation or not. But the fact that it IS Allen’s latest film, coupled with a rare outing as a leading man for David, means that it’s worth a look for the cache at the very least, even if, like so many former Allen fans, you secretly think he’s lost his mojo.
Larry David stars as Boris Yellnikoff, a bitter reclusive neurotic genius turned chess teacher, whose beliefs are summed up in a rant to the audience, recalling a favourite Allen trick of old, the breaking of the fourth wall. A survivor of an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Boris believes he is the only man in the world who truly understands the meaninglessness of existence. “I’m a man with a huge world view” he tells us “I’m surrounded by microbes”.
One such microbe is Melody Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood in one of the worst wigs in movie history), a naive, adorable young runaway who latches onto Boris, drinking in his cynical world view and, naturally, microscopically changing his. Despite the gigantic age gap – something that has never phased Allen, in film, nor in life – they marry. Enter Melody’s dysfunctional parents to disrupt Boris’ life even further, as all the characters around him start questioning their outlook on love, life and the universe. It’s familiar ground, well trodden, and there is certainly an expected weariness to the audience who may yet still be hoping that Allen might have something fresher than this to say.
Allen enjoys playing with the philosophy of the chance factor – two people, in the right place at the right time, can create something beautiful. And it’s as true of inane southern belle Melody and New York grump Boris as it is of Woody Allen and Larry David. There’s a thin line between their comedic outlook, and David, channelling himself as Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and whatever version of Allen that seeped into Boris, makes an outstanding comic lead that’s as neurotically morose and snippy as Allen would have his creation, and as cheeky as David clearly enjoys being both on set, and in life. One imagines there was a certain about of improvisation on David’s part – he’s unable to contain – no, curb – his enthusiasm, and the film is all the better for it.
Unfortunately, the film slides into farce far too quickly to be comfortable, with a kind of sexual free for all involving Melody’s parents (the always brilliant Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr), Boris’s equally intellectual friends, and a rather irritating young English suitor whose accent is jarringly out of place in the familiar New York setting that defines so much of Allen’s early work. But the script is as tight as any Curb episode, as waspish, as bitchy and clever as it should be, and though there is no ground broken here, there is none lost either.