Woody Allen wrapped up his European trilogy last year and returns to New York City filmmaking with a theme too familiar to fans, an old man in love with a younger woman.
For a large number of his films, Allen has put himself in the center. In the past decade, however, Allen has mostly extracted himself from his movies and hired someone else to play the role he normally would, which is generally an intellectual, neurotic, lovelorn male.
The various comedic actors who have "played" Woody Allen in his movies never seemed quite right for the role. They always felt like pale imitators. With this film, Allen has perhaps found the perfect fit, a kindred spirit of sorts, someone who seems very comfortable delivering Allen's material.
Allen always casts great actors who can pull off his material with great aplomb. However, if there were ever an actor who perhaps needed no direction and who could pull off Woody Allen's stuff naturally, it would certainly be Larry David.
David is Boris Yellnikoff, an arrogant candidate for the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum mechanics. Boris teaches chess to children and chastises them for not instantly being Bobby Fisher. He's pessimistic, thinking there's no God and nothing good in the world. He's a curmudgeon, and not just rude but totally sardonic. He calls people microbes, inchworms, and cretons.
Despite not being a Yankees player, Boris is thrown a curve ball in the form of a petite, young girl from Mississippi named Melody, played by Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen and Across the Universe). Melody's brainpower probably does equal that of a microbe. Boris immediately wants nothing to do with her, but she develops a crush, latches onto him and starts to absorb everything about him like a sponge.
The clever quips and one-liners that Boris lets loose are, of course, vintage Woody Allen. Yet, the true hilarity is Allen's depiction of the change that occurs for his country characters.
Patricia Clarkson, who previously worked with Allen in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), plays one of those country characters. She's Marietta, the mother of Melody. She starts out as a right wing, Southern, boozehound who has nothing but anxious words about her daughter's presence in the city.
Ed Begley, Jr. plays John, Melody's father. He also has reservations about his daughter's life in Manhattan, but he's more there to reconcile with Marietta on whom he cheated. He wants to beg for her forgiveness and prove he's a good, Christian man.
Both of them worry that being in New York will corrupt their pure, innocent, little girl. Ironically, it's them who become corrupted. Some might argue that it's less corrupted and more comfortable with being who they really are, which turns out to be the exact opposite of how they first present themselves. Namely, it's them being more sexually adventurous.
Of course, sex in its various forms is used as a punch line in many of Allen's gags here. Converting so-called conservatives into homosexuals or hippies who have ménage a trois garners the most laughs at the tail end of this film.
Allen's commentary on love is basically recycled themes he's used before. He revisits the idea of luck being a key to life and unlikely relationships being the ones that win out. This is hardly a new concept. In fact, all romantic comedies are based on this idea.
I know it's a trick for which Allen is famous, but he has Boris talking to the camera for comedic asides. The opening monologue is clever where Boris talks straight into the lens, but the various asides don't work and feel tedious.
Four Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for sexual dialogue and brief nude images
Running Time: 1 hr. and 32 mins.