I should have seen it coming with the release of Whatever Works: that after Woody Allen’s fascinating career renaissance with Match Point (2005), Cassandra’s Dream (2007), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and to a lesser extent Scoop (2006), Allen would fall back on his most tired clichés and stale characters once again. Despite a really eclectic cast who seem mostly game, YWMATDS (I refuse to write that out each time) doesn’t even live up to Allen’s worst films but feels like a Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer creation called “Woody Allen Movie.”
Most of Allen’s recent films have really broken out of the New York City mold and embraced Europe in a way he never did before. They had an air, of the exotic or the mysterious or the aristocracy, that mined new material for him and did so with vivid characters and locales. YWMATDS is auto-pilot; it reduces its London location to windows and streets that could be anywhere and offer very little sense of place.
The interwoven stories here involve two couples at the fray of their marriages: Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) as well as their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin). Great cast, right? Sure, if they had anything interesting to do other than suffer a case of male-pattern horniness (both Hopkins and Brolin, falling for the much younger Lucy Punch and Freida Pinto, respectively), Helena losing her marbles and enlisting the advice of a swindling psychic and Sally falling for a gallery owner (a miscast Antonio Banderas) who’s completely uninterested in her. There is so much potential with this cast, so much international flair and natural comic talent (especially in Jones and Punch, who come out the least scathed) that it would seem easy to mine humor from them. But instead the actors are saddled with flat Allen shtick and gags that aren’t classic as much as they are overworn (Brolin’s failed writing career takes a positive turn when the manuscript of a dead friend falls into his hands) and beneath the actors’ (and Allen’s) ability.
We’ve seen all of these characters done much better by Allen (and even by his protégés). A massive disappointment and hopefully not the career turn for Allen it appears to be.