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Woody Allen and Larry David: Two Jews blues


If Woody Allen's new film "Whatever Works" feels a little dated -- and I don't mean that pejoratively, just in the sense that all Woody Allen movies seem to hark back to an earlier era, where swing music is on the radio and no one would dream of communicating via text message -- it's not by accident. One of the most intriguing tidbits Mark Harris uncovered in his absorbing new portrait of Allen (and "Works" costar Larry David) in the new issue of New York magazine is that the "Whatever Works" script was originally written in the 1970s, so long-long-ago that Allen had envisioned the David part being played by ... Zero Mostel. (Mostel died in 1977, the year "Annie Hall" was released, so this indeed is vintage Allen.)

But with an actors strike looming last year, Allen couldn't stick to his customary film-in-the-summer-when-his-kids-are-out-of-school routine. So he grabbed an old script from the drawer and persuaded  David to play Boris Yellnikoff, a curmudgeonly physicist who falls for a much younger woman, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who being 21 and Larry David being 61, would qualify as a much, much younger woman, even by Allen standards. Harris describes Yellnikoff as "a cranky, forlorn, impatient New York Jew of a certain age." As for the film itself -- due out June 19 in New York and Los Angeles -- he seems to gently pull a punch, describing it as "a Larry David movie that doesn't quite feel like a Larry David movie and a new Woody Allen movie that isn't really new."

What makes the piece worth reading is that instead of driving down easy street like most magazine writers do these days, Harris steers clear of a softball gabfest with the two famous comics. Instead he deftly turns the profile into an extended, thoughtful examination of the notion of Allen and David as contrasting examples of classic Jewish humor -- "emperors of adjoining comedy galaxies finally colliding," to use his lovely phrase for it. The piece ends up being a meditation of sorts on the Felix and Oscar-like nature of their different brands of comedy, with some nice sidelong glances at other Jewish planetary objects of affection, including Jerry Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman,  who once famously remarked that her grandmother got a "vanity" tattoo at "one of the better concentration camps" -- ("It said BEDAZZLED").

At the tail end, Harris offers a brief snippet from the joint interview (though no mention at all about the -- how should we say it -- Freudian casting of a 21-year-old actress opposite a fussy 61-year-old comic). True to their cranky cores, both men find themselves agreeing that they hate DVD commentaries, believing the voice tracks detract from the movie itself. Allen admits that "I can't work my DVD player. Only my wife can do it," prompting this rejoinder from David: "I can't do it either. I think maybe that contributed to my divorce."

Photo of Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in "Whatever Works" by Jessica Miglio / Sony Pictures Classics

Comments () | Archives (7)

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I sure hope that Allen, who has been off for years, allows David, who has been on for years, the freedom to employ HIS sensibilities. In Seinfeld, Costanza often did a better old Woody than what Woody was doing new. And watching Vicky Christina whatever seemed like a puppet show in Allen's room, where he was doing all the characters' voices. Woody, (who gave us more golden moments earlier?), needs a second act, cause the old one is pretty worn out. Where are his new Berkowitz's? And old Navaho Indian tricks? For years he's been dousing his funny New York Jew with liberal doses of the brooding Bergman. It's a self-defeating hybrid.

I'm looking forward to this one. But I find Wood'y movies for the past 10 years have been hit and miss.

Do I understand correctly that this is an article about an article about a movie? The Times is very lucky to have extra staff hours to waste.

At what point does Woody Allen cease being a "mature filmmaker" and be called what he appears (to me) to be: a dirty old man.
He started this thing with old men, VERY young girls in MANHATTAN, let it spread to his personal life, and now we see it again, but through an alter ego: Larry David.

And could someone please explain to us ignorant goyim why Jewish humor is supposed to be THAT different. (Isn't a laugh a laugh? Or a joke a joke?)

Just another bemused Gentile still trying to understand what all the fuss is about. No malice intended.

Even when all the critics gang up on Woody Allen and the public fails to buy a ticket, I have always said that a bad Woody Allen film has moments of pure genius that no other film that year could match or even come close. I'll sit through 90 minutes for 5 minutes of brilliance. Most of these box office hits are brainless duds. I can't last once the opening credits are done. I pick up my popcorn and leave.

this one looks like a good comedy. woody has been more hit than miss the last 5 years. loved vicki cristina, match point and liked scoop... and melinda was good as well... not great but interesting. didn't see Cassandra's Dream.

and Pecos45: the creepy one is you... someone who sounds obsessed with an old comedian you hate yet go to the trouble of reading stories about him online and leavinf snarky comments... like some sort of online freaky stalker. look int he mirror if you wanna see a weirdo.

Actually, Caroll Johnston, the public HAS been buying tickets to his films lately. His last 4 cost a combined $60 million to make and grossed $230 million worldwide. He's on a roll and is in the middle of what may be the most enjoyable and successful phase of his career.


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