A new Woody Allen movie: Starring Larry David
Not since The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy has America been so ripe for the ribbings of a new comedy team. Next week’s Tribeca premiere of “Whatever Works,” a film that unites Woody Allen and Larry David—two of the zaniest, brilliant and comedic Jews in showbiz—is bound to bemuse, delight and exasperate. The topic is love. The backdrop is New York. And the star is neurotic. Of course it’s Woody Allen—but better, with Larry David standing in as his alter ego.
The film’s message is that sometimes, the wrong love is the right one. An apropos theme, from two minds that are routinely accused of flagrant nihilism. But that’s not how they see it. It’s realism, Allen explains. “As long as you’re not hurting anybody … or doing anything that’s causing any mischief or hurting anyone or anything awful, that whatever works to get through your life is fine. All the nonsense about what one should be doing and shouldn’t be doing and what’s quote unquote appropriate according to what I call the appropriate police—it’s nonsense. It’s a tough scuffle through life,” Allen tells The New York Observer. He co-wrote the script more than three decades ago with Brooklyn Jewish comedian Zero Mostel, but after Mostel’s death, buried it in a drawer. Years later and sick of London, Allen turns to Larry David to resurrect his artistic affair with New York. And from early accounts, David does so with a bubbling swirl of angst, cynicism and ribaldry.
Sara Vilkomerson spoke to the two middle-aged, Jew-hunks for her story in The New York Observer.
Ordinarily gun shy, Allen opens up: “I can’t ever say I’ve been happy with my films,” he said quietly. “It’s always the same story: I set out to make them and I’m setting out to make, you know, the greatest thing ever made. Citizen Kane or Othello. But by the time I’ve finished, when the compromises set in, and I’ve screwed this up artistically and I couldn’t get that actor and I didn’t have enough money for this, and I guessed wrong on this joke … by the time I put the picture together, I’ve gone from being sure that I was going to make the next great American masterpiece to just praying that it won’t be an embarrassment.”
David explains his outlook: “..I suspect I’m probably more pessimistic about the smaller things: The relationship won’t work out, Obama will lose, the Yankees will lose, the movie will bomb—things like that. People won’t watch ball games with me because I’m so pessimistic. I’m no fun to be around.”
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So, a new Woody Allen movie starring Larry David filmed right here in New York City. Could there be a more deep-fried mix of talent, comedy and neuroses? For most of us, Woody Allen is as quintessential New York as the Chrysler Building. Many New Yorkers grew up with a vision of this city spun by Annie Hall and Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, where the skyline always twinkles and romance lurks around every limestoned corner; where brainy, nervous men charm young and naïve beautiful women in grand prewar apartments lined with bookshelves; where there are country weekends with lobsters to chase and always—always—love to find and fail. And then there’s Larry David, another Brooklyn boy made good, co-creator and writer of Seinfeld, which defined New York all over again in the ’90s, with its exquisite, endless examinations and sweating of the small stuff—soup Nazis, being master of the domain, parking garages and puffy shirts. Since his 1999 HBO special Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the still-airing series that followed, he’s made performance masterpieces of excruciating situations. The news that he was to star in Mr. Allen’s latest had some rubbing their hands in anticipatory delight, others sharpening their knives, all anxious to see if Mr. David could pull off the ultimate as a Woody misanthropic paradigm.
The title refers to a rather pragmatic philosophy when it comes to our treacherous human hearts, namely that if you should find something or someone in your life that makes you happy, go with it—regardless if it might appear, at first glance, to be all wrong. “I do believe in that strongly myself,” Mr. Allen said. “As long as you’re not hurting anybody … or doing anything that’s causing any mischief or hurting anyone or anything awful, that whatever works to get through your life is fine. All the nonsense about what one should be doing and shouldn’t be doing and what’s quote unquote appropriate according to what I call the appropriate police—it’s nonsense. It’s a tough scuffle through life,” he said. “A tragic situation. Whatever gets you through—as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else—is fine.”
Whatever Works has its fair share of dark corners, but audiences may be pleasantly surprised at its ultimately sunny rom-com message. It’s strange to think that Mr. Allen wrote this film decades ago, long before we learned far too much about his own private romantic struggles (though its doctrine is an easy leap from his infamous “The heart wants what it wants” remark to Time magazine in 1992 amidst the Mia/Soon-Yi scandal).
“I think my philosophy has been consistent over the years, and it appears either persuasive or idiotic depending on how good the film is,” he said. “If I make a film and the film itself works, then I feel people come away saying, ‘Gee, the philosophy here makes sense.’ And if I make a film where I’ve struck out and I’ve made bad artistic choices and the film is not good, then they think, ‘His ideas are stupid and narcissistic and irrelevant.’ But really the ideas have always been the same … it’s just that I’ve failed artistically.”
“I don’t know Woody that well, but it’s pretty obvious it’s at least a bit of some of who Woody is,” Mr. David said. “He must have seen something in me to make a passable stand-in for him.” Mr. David said he had brought Annie Hall home recently for his 14-year-old daughter to watch. “She couldn’t get through it because [Woody’s character] reminded her too much of me. She can’t watch me, either. As far as I know, we’re the only two people she’s said that about.”