Thursday, August 6, 2009

Notebook: Whatever & Twitter

Whatever Works
Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, which I only recently got around to seeing, doesn’t offer much to get excited about. With its (occasional) sharp wit injected into a plot about a cantankerous old guy whining about life in the presence of a beautiful much younger woman, it is dependably Woodman. And, as such, it’s pretty boringly Woodman, too. Its humor and themes are almost tediously familiar. But then so are these criticisms. So rather than continue the annual reassessment of Allen’s career, let me take a moment to mention what I found to be the film’s greatest weakness and greatest strength.

The weakness is Larry David. And, paradoxically, the problem with Larry David is that he’s too strong. Too tall, too vital, too menacing, too consequential. His Boris Yellnikoff rants and cracks wise like the typical Woody Allen lead. He’s familiarly neurotic and opinionated. He’s typically inflexible. But for all the ways David seems like a natural to fill Allen’s shoes, the fact remains that his feet are too big. Boris isn’t small, meek and unintimidating. He isn’t so awkward that he’s endearing. He doesn’t seem jaded but ultimately harmless. To the contrary, Boris packs a wallop. To Alvy Singer’s ankle-biter, Boris is a Rottweiler who might have rabies. When he barks, we pay attention. After spending 15 minutes listening to Boris growling, I was ready to call animal control. Even at their worst, Allen’s incarnations – like the Seinfeld cast, actually – are fun to be around. Boris is just a jerk who makes time in his presence a chore.

And that’s what makes Evan Rachel Wood’s performance, the film’s greatest asset, all the more remarkable. She plays Melodie St. Ann Celestine, a character even more preposterous than her name. Melodie is capital-S Southern and Stupid. The notion that she would be attracted to Boris, and he to her, is as ridiculous as … as … well, as about any of the hookups that Allen-played characters have had over the past 20 years. But, wouldn’t you know it, Wood finds a way to make it all seem plausible (or as plausible as the film requires). She embraces Melodie’s twangy accent and ditsy personality and plays them surprisingly straight. Melodie is a cartoon character, yes, but Wood’s performance isn’t cartoonish. (What’s the difference? Think of a scenery-chewing performance by Bette Midler. That’s the difference.) This isn’t the first time I’ve enjoyed Wood. She impressed me in Thirteen, Down in the Valley, Running With Scissors and The Wrestler, to name a few. But, one way or another, all of that is pretty dark material. It’s refreshing to see Wood play a character who is so light and loveable. Her portrayal in Whatever Works joins Maya Rudolph’s turn in Away We Go among the most impressive female performances unlikely to get a sniff of year-end awards hype. Too bad.

The Cooler is now on Twitter. How long that will last, we’ll see. If you’d like to follow movie-related tweets from this twit, just go to If not, no problem. If you’re not down with Twitter, I’m not here to convert you. (I’m hardly its biggest champion.) I’ve decided to experiment with the annoyingly popular social media tool for two reasons: first, to have further interaction with other movie fans at a more immediate (and, yes, micro) level; second, to create another way to perhaps expand The Cooler’s audience. CoolerCinema tweets won’t be anything earth shattering, believe me. Mostly I’ll be using Twitter to link to articles when I post them (if you’re a regular visitor to The Cooler or use RSS to stay in touch, this won’t help you). I’ll also toss off pithy observations on movies – the kind of stuff you might find in the Etcetera section below – when the mood strikes. Just to be clear, the Twitter feed is secondary to (and hopefully supportive of) this blog. I simply want to make it easier for readers to stay in touch given my irregular posting schedule. (Note to Twitter virgins: You don't need to have tweets sent to your phone to be involved on Twitter. You can do it all online. You can even follow tweets through your RSS reader, if you'd prefer.)

Another step I've taken to make it easier to keep in touch with The Cooler is adding Blogger’s follower feature to the sidebar. It’s a move I’d resisted up to this point because, frankly, I thought it was going to be a fast-dying fad. I was wrong. My impression is that its popularity is growing – I use Google Reader myself, and it saves me hours of time each week. So, if you’d like, become a follower of The Cooler.

Etcetera (aka Tweet-type Stuff)
Here’s how enchanting I find Rachel McAdams: Whenever I see trailers for The Time Traveler’s Wife, I try to convince myself that it looks really, really good. … Leave it to Matt Zoller Seitz to write what I think might be the line of the year. It comes in his review of the latest Harry Potter film. Give it a read and look out for his parenthetical reference to one of the movie’s early scenes. Matt coins a term so slyly clever that at first I doubted its intent. I’m still chuckling. … In other good writing news, Will Pfeifer nails the absurdity of Steven Spielberg’s rumored remake of Harvey. I listed the link in my Sharin’ the Love section, but it was worth an additional plug. … I had to laugh the other day when, flipping through TV, I pulled up the guide for the five or so Encore channels that I get as part of my rather modest Comcast package. Listed in order were the following films: Missionary Man, Odd Man Out and Toy Soldiers. For a moment I thought it was a roundup of Best Picture nominees for the AVN Awards. ... A plug for Tony Dayoub's De Palma Blog-a-thon coming up in September.


Ed Howard said...

I like what you have to say about Larry David and how different it is when he plays the "Woody role." He definitely comes across as way more of an overbearing asshole than any character actually played by Woody. I think Woody was going for the same effect in Celebrity when he had Kenneth Branagh take on that role, and the result is a much harsher, colder, less forgiving look at the fumbling, neurotic intellectual. Boris, on the other hand, is just a jerk, and like you I found him a bit much to take at times. A lot of his nasty lines directed at Melodie are horrifying rather than funny. Of course, as you know, I have a higher opinion of the film as a whole, which pulls together in the second half when the focus shifts off Boris and onto Melodie's family. Then again, I thought Wood was pretty worse than David, even allowing for the cartoonish quality of her character. And despite really liking The Wrestler, I thought she was lousy in that too. There's something about her that's just always so stilted and awkward, like she's always working so damn hard at her performance. It's distracting.

Jason Bellamy said...

I agree that there are moments in The Wrestler when she seems to be working too hard. But I thought the Whatever Works performance was, well, effortless. Strange.

(Meantime: Fuck Twitter and its constant outages. Typical that the day I decide to draw people to the new Cooler feed that it would be down half the day. Annoying.)