Recent reviews of Woody Allen's latest film, Whatever Works, have not been kind. A.O. Scott at The Times said, "None of it works," and The New Yorker's Anthony Lane called it a "comedy about a waxwork (an aging New York Jewish intellectual) and a host of ancient artifacts...being brought back to life. It should be called "Manhattan: Battle of the Upper West Side.'"
So the Upper West Side is where I went to see this movie on its opening weekend--at ground zero for such Manhattan "waxworks" and various other alter kockers: The Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. There the crowd laughed throughout the movie and applauded mightily at the end. They loved it. I loved it.
I sent a special JVNY operative into the ladies room to take notes in the chattering line.
"One of his best."
"A real New York movie."
But what about all the bad reviews?
"I never, never, never go by the critics."
"It's a throwback to old Woody Allen, like Manhattan, back to his comedy, plus a little cynicism, and love and bitterness."
"It's too sharp," said one woman whose 50 years in New York have made no dent in her Eastern European accent, "so it's misunderstood."
Sharpness. Bitterness. Cynicism. These add up to a critical sensibility that is vanishing from New York, along with everything else worth holding onto.
The script for Whatever Works dates back to the 1970s. It's the film Allen never got around to making. As New York Magazine said "This movie is literally vintage Woody Allen. In fact, it calls to mind a brand of Jewish humor that has, in recent years, been all but scrubbed out—neurotic, depressive, abrasive, excluded." I would add: That's the brand of New York City that's also being scrubbed out.
What Allen knows, like those women in the bathroom line, is that kvetching doesn't equal hopelessness. It is hope. And this movie is exquisitely hopeful. In it, people change for the better. They receive the sort of transformation that people used to come to New York in search of.
an opinion on the Lower East Side
So it is this, above all else, that makes the movie an anachronism: In Whatever Works, a family of blonde, Jesus-loving, gun-toting Republicans from the middle of America come to the Lower East Side and assimilate into New York culture--they become group-sex swinging, homosexual, atheistic artists who love the city for undoing their buttoned-up souls.
That doesn't happen today. Today, those types of people change the city. The city doesn't change them. And we all suffer for it. New York as a place where people come to find their true unruly selves, at the expense of society's approval, is vanishing--and it's that New York that haunts this film, a ghostly waxwork almost forgotten.
Neurotics Vs. Narcissists
Suburbanization & Anti-Semitism