19 September 2009 | jzappa
Anything You Would Ever Hope From Either of the Two Comic Masters.
There is something to Woody Allen's method of working that, as ironic as it may seem to his general appearance, outdoes most other great filmmakers working right now. Every year since 1967, he has come out with at least one film. He had no idea what end of the camera had the lens when he started. By now, he has come across such a wide array of different genres, themes, casting and setting staples and classical influences that, with a career that has had unequivocal consistency, he gives us precisely what even the most remote Woody Allen observer would expect from him, but with such an intensely enriched mark of mastered skills as both a writer and a director and the age that has been spent mastering them. It is a simply, classically structured story about an old Jewish man that can't stand being so much smarter than everybody else. And so he is.
He casts Larry David in what Woody Allen himself would probably deny is the Woody Allen role, but he couldn't deny that it has all the accoutrements that embody the persona he's made almost inimitably his. But David is the star here, in a role originally for Zero Mostel, but despite everything is inimitably himself as well nonetheless. He has the extra bite and carping dysfunctionality that is more his shtick that Allen's. The two apt collaborators easily remain flexible with each other. David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a misanthropic intellectual who teaches chess to children and abuses them when they don't make the moves that he finds obvious. He is nonetheless a highly knowledgeable man. Whatever your opinion may be of his political and social commentary, we're not given a choice whether or not to think highly of his intelligence when he shows the other characters in the opening scene that they are in a movie, and they stagger in discovery of this and quiver in denial. To onlookers, however, he just looks insane, and that is the key to his crabby cynicism. But despite all his knowledge and wisdom, in the end there is only one deducement he can make of all the chaos: To be sort of happy in life you have to do what you want, not what other people tell you to do.
It's as sheer as that, as we see when what are to him broad cultural fast-sketches enter his purposely lonely life after a divorce and an attempted suicide, and the plots strands unravel for the duds of the American South to find their true selves unfettered by their stubborn traditional mores in the unadulterated liberalizing melting pot of New York City. Evan Rachel Wood is the overtly ironic love interest for Boris, who is truly and utterly disgusted by her, and no matter what hilariously unkind names he call her, she does not simply act as if he is performing his stand-up routine to the wall like many other lesser vehicles for comedians, but gives a real performance by reacting in the innocently confused way that Boris is baffled to find endearing. The true cartoons are Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr., who effortlessly play their characters without missing a beat in the swift about-faces they undergo from the minute they're on screen.
This film is not just the collaboration of two talents with a lot in common culturally. It is anything you would ever hope from either of them. Larry David is a clever and funny persona under his own life-sucks farcical writing, but that very broad and free-to-roam character is sharpened and distilled under Woody's veteran instinct, which is as sagacious as ever because although his work has been particularly strong recently, this is not another attempt at something new to his range as most of the filmography from Match Point on have been. This is what he began doing and always has kept as his staple: a broad screwball sex comedy with an interwoven intellectual urge and a familiar intimacy with New York. And he's given himself extra room to be unapologetically sociopolitical, and brutally honest about his ideologies, viewpoints on sex and love between people of drastically different ages and generally the overall deeply imprinted signature of a Jewish agnostic New Yorker who has lived a long time, stayed busy and never stopped pondering.