And I, too, can't really let go of all hope that it won't finally be a return to form for the workaholic filmmaker - even if, by my measure, the last time he made a film really worth anyone's time and thoughts was 1994's Bullets Over Broadway. Is the percipacity and wit that he used to display so gloriously really gone from the man? Not content to rest my current feelings toward the man on one film alone, I finally screened Whatever Works (which took over a year after its UK release to appear on UK screens) and found a little more to laugh at, but an equal amount to not be impressed by. These films are lazy. These films are thin. These films are full of caricatures - not necessarily a problem, but they do not exist beyond the kind of motifs that have been wrung out years ago. Allen sets up relationships between characters and then reduces key scenes to voiceover sentences, as if he just can't be bothered to script and shoot a scene of such emotional import. He wants these things over just as much as you do.
|Larry David doesn't understand why his character marries Evan's. Neither do we.|
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger opens with a line from Shakespeare, excusing itself as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". By now, that reads as an astonishingly honest cue to get the fuck out of the theatre. I stayed, though, and what played out was one of Allen's very worst films. One of his worst tendencies lately is the use of a novelistic narrator, a disconnected, monotone figure who fills in the gaps in the narrative - and, more criminally, fills in the gaps in the characters. Motivation, feeling, decision - the narrator tells us them all. One of the film's few moments of emotional clarity is gifted to bit-part player Anna Friel - while scene partner Naomi Watts, the film's most central character, watches with probable envy, remembering that all she gets to do is shout and fail at a convincing British accent.
|Gemma Jones and Naomi Watts look for direction...|
Allen's incredible work rate - since Bananas, in 1971, there have been a grand total of 3 years where he hasn't made a film, two of which were in the 1970s - only seemed to be flagged up as a problem since the returns have become so diminishing. The break from New York isn't simultaneous with the decline, since his current nadir, Anything Else, likely (or should have) caused the geographical shift. But will he ever lose that cinematic cache, that "legend" status, that keeps attracting the stars to subpar material and Cannes to invite him to lead their red carpet? Or, more importantly, will he ever recover his talent for funny, perceptive human insights, or even the romantic visual sense that was once so palatable? We can only wait and see.
Whatever Works: C-; You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger: D