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Cinema Signal: Numerous flaws & weaknesses which may be forgiven or ignored but only by a limited audience.

Sing Like an American Idol, Women's Edition
Everything You Need to Sing the Hits!

(Discounted Paperback (with CD) from Amazon)

. "Whatever Works"

Judging by this latest Woody Allen film, the writer/director/comedian is getting less and less funny, unless you take his endless harangues about the world and the people in it, which he puts into the mouth of his alter ego- central character, a cause for laughter. Is he just kidding? Needling us with pessimism? Piling on the neuroticism while spooning out a good amount of eroticism? Why does his movie make me think I'm a fly on the wall observing his last therapy session about being an old man with a very young wife?

The last time he cast himself in a role that placed him in a close relationship with a beautiful young girl, platonic though it may have been, was "Scoop," with Scarlet Johansen. As the realities of his 75 years makes writing such situations more and more untenable, for "Whatever Works," he appears to have moderated his insistence on playing roles that reflects the real life he leads, and he substitutes himself with that much younger hunk, 62-year old Larry David (of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame) to be the enamorata of the sexpot. Oh, well, that's better.

That central character is Boris Yellnikoff, with superb Evan Rachel Wood playing about thirteen at her real age of 22 (if that) as one Melodie St. Ann Celestine, creating a better matchup than if he'd played the part himself, don't ya' think?

It starts with Melodie as a homeless waif who insists herself on Boris for a bite to eat in his apartment one night after a very long diatribe he delivered directly into the camera, soaked with scorn and irony ala Woody Allen. Poor girl, she doesn't know the kind of misanthrope she's about to get into bed with.

Believe it or not, that's where the script is going, though there will be a few steps in-between. The girl, a gorgeous, slender ditz from a rural town in the South, thinks the self-styled genius -- a man who nearly won a Nobel Prize and won't let you forget it -- is her man. With so few options or influences available to her, this little vixen decides that a chance to absorb her benefactor's blinding brilliance is a turn-on. Before you know it, and at her insistence, they get married.

You see what I mean about a Woody Allen therapy session? Well, it could just be my way of interpreting the direction he takes his film into.

The situational comedy ensues from this set-up, when the girl's past starts catching up to her and Boris, and modern New York modalities get the better of peoples' entrenched assumptions. Farcical, and for the right audience, not without some fun.

But, it's the girl that makes it happen and Allen's true genius in casting is evident in his choice of Wood as an innocent who can make a relationship between a teenager and a misogynist at least conditionally plausible.

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The Soundtrack

I can't say too much about Wood's spectacular ability to pull off a part that had to please the auteur and which is a perfect model of what a really fine actor can accomodate. It's called stretching without showing the stretch marks. Wood is so good at it that she surmounts the unease I felt (and which others may, as well) in the story concept.

Allen may be trying to exonerate and/or justify himself to those who might be condemning him for his life style, or it may just be natural for a writer to mine his own life for subject matter. Either way, the choice he's made here seems inadvisable. When does "meeting a problem head on?" trump keeping a private matter private? In any case, I've now seen as much of that as I want to and, as a sometimes reluctant fan, I'm hoping for another "Match Point," luv.

Kudos to Evan Rachel Wood and may no one ever underrate what she's capable of.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood
Occupying some Woody Allen mental turf.

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