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Blogging from San Sebastian September 16-24, 2022

Coverage Recap of 61st edition. Photo gallery 2013 Recap of 63rd edition, video I Recap of 64th edition, video I Recap of 65th edition, video / Recap of 66th edition /Recap of 68th edition, video



"Whatever Works" Works

Woody Allen's new film Whatever Works starring Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood was screened here in San Sebastian yesterday. The film played to an enthusiastic press audience: there was laughter and applause at all the right moments, and the daily newspaper review here stated that it harkens back to some of his best work.

The film follows Larry David as an early Allen-esque character--New Yorker, neuroses and all--who meets and befriends a Mississippi ingénue played by Evan Rachel Wood, eventually falling for the girl he still considers to be an imbecile and marrying her. As time goes by, Wood's character develops opinions past that which she has gobbled up at the elbow of ex-string theory physicist and general pessimist Boris (David), and when her straight-laced parents arrive from Mississippi, everyone's love life and image of who they thought they were goes topsy-turvy: as the film's title--and Boris at the end--states: whatever works.

The film is being screened here at San Sebastian 2009 as a part of the Zabaltegi section, today Saturday the 19th at 9:00 P.M. and tomorrow Monday the 20th at 11:00 P.M.

Woody Allen is one of those directors that you either love or you hate—I’d been in the first camp forever, that is, until I saw the bizarro 90s washup that was Curse of the Jade Scorpion, after which I was convinced that Allen had lost his edge and swore off seeing any new Allen, a goal I’ve managed to achieve save one viewing of Melinda and Melinda (verdict: meh.)

I heard mixed reviews of Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but the general consensus, at least as far as I knew, was that Allen was no longer the same director he was when he did Manhattan and Annie Hall: if you liked his old stuff, you probably would not like the new things that so many people who had never understood Allen’s neurotic New York humor hadn’t liked in the first place. As a native New Yorker and lifelong Allen fan, the second he forsook our city, I lost interest.

How refreshing, then, to have the master back where he belongs, decades later and slightly different than before with a new muse, a new protagonist and a new edge.

My fears over seeing a new Allen were quelled nearly immediately when in Whatever Works, Larry David as Manhattan-esque Allen-like character with the same first name as Allen’s alter-ego in Love and Death harkens back to Annie Hall days to break character and discuss the film with the audience. Self-conscious cinema has always been one of Allen’s strong points, and the entire audience laughed as David explained the necessity of the set-up of the story: while sitting at a Manhattan coffee shop, a friend asks David to “tell us your story” for the sole purpose of giving him a fictitious reason to tell it so that we, as the audience, can witness it.

The rest of the film is full of little quirks that will delight old-school Allen fans: the young ingénue played by a usually brilliant but here slightly unchallenged acting-wise Evan Rachel Wood harkens back to the same idea of “old-Jewish-neurotic-New-Yorker falls for young beauty” that was best highlighted in Manhattan but that runs in the veins of most of Allen’s earlier work.

Perhaps the best part is seeing Allen back the way he was meant to be—Larry David is a stellar stand-in for the neurotic New Yorker bit that Allen played for so many years as Boris, an ex-rich New Yorker turned Chinatown bohème with intense nighttime panic attacks, an irrational fear of the dark and loathing of everything and a long-standing grudge against the panel of the Nobel Peace prize who shirked him with regards to his work in string theory.

David is perhaps best described as a charicature of old Allen—even more neurotic and hateful with a limp he self-inflicted in a botched suicide attempt. Moreover, the entire film takes all of early Allen and magnifies it to the nth degree: perfectly imperfect romances abound, straight-laced Southern women transition into artists doing collage tributes to lust and living in a ménage-à-trois as the straight-laced husbands confess to always having had a “thing” for the tight end of their high school football team and entering into a devoted relationship with a man.

Wood, as Melody from Mississippi, is a caricature of a stupid Southern beauty queen, and her love interest is a perfect British actor living on a boat who falls in love at first sight and states numerous times that he is “a romantic,” as though we couldn’t figure that out from the months spent pining over a girl he saw briefly in a coffee shop. If it were anyone other than Allen, I would say it was overkill, but because it is the master back in action, I like to think he’s just laughing at us.

-Emily Monaco

Fifth Row, Left Side

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About SanSebastian

Barreda de Biurrun Inés

Blogging from the 70th San Sebastian Film Festival
Reporting by Inés Barreda de Biurrun, Bruno Chatelin and Juncal de la Fuente.

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