If there’s a trend in late-era Woody Allen films, it’s that he’s finally owning up to the reality that he needs a surrogate in his movies. By that I mean he’s finally begun realizing that when he writes a “Woody Allen” character in his scripts it’s no longer always appropriate for him to cast himself in that role. Instead he’s enlisting, at least occasionally, other actors to play the stylized version of himself that he channels in his writing. Granted there are really only two instances of this – Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda and Jason Biggs in Anything Else – but even so it’s kind of out-of-character of him to even go that far. Also granted – neither of those guys really did that great in the role because they were asked to do an Allen impersonation more than anything else and it just didn’t work out well.
The latest movie to feature an Allen stand-in is Whatever Works, though this time the results might be a bit more on-target. That’s because the person picked to play that role is another misanthropic, sarcastic New York Jew: Larry David. One of the creators of “Seinfeld” and the creator and star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” David is kind of a natural choice for the role since channeling Woody Allen, much like channeling himself on “Curb,” isn’t going to be that much of a stretch for him. The two share mannerisms, intonation and a handful of other attributes that make the selection of David kind of a no-brainer and one that’s liable to work pretty well in the film itself.
Speaking of that film, this one brings Allen back to New York after a brief a few trips to Spain, London, Paris and other locations that weren’t The Big Apple. David plays a New Yorker who, deciding his upscale life is kind of unfulfilling, decides to live a simpler lifestyle. While doing that he meets a young Southern girl played by Evan Rachel Wood, whose family he becomes entangled in. The results of that presumably provide much of the film’s comedy.
Let’s see how Sony Classics is handling the marketing.
I think the only one-sheet released domestically in the U.S. is the one I included above, with David standing in khakis and a windbreaker against a blank white background, his hands and shoulders in a “What? What do you want from me?” pose that’s as universal as the figures on the door of a men’s restroom.
It might not be the most exciting, creative or original image ever created but I like it since I get the feeling it sells the movie’s strongest asset – David’s performance – without any hesitation. It’s essentially marketing the film to the audience as a feature film version of “Curb” but that’s alright, I think, since that’s what a Woody Allen movie basically is.
Speaking of Allen, he’s nowhere to be seen here. If you know his movies you’ll likely recognize the generic typeface used for the names of the actors and the title treatment as the same one he always uses in the credits, but there’s nothing that labels this as an Allen movie unless you’re into reading the credits block. On the posters for his last few movies his name has at least appeared, even if it was pretty small. But this one drops it completely as a separate component. Maybe that was a move designed to further enhance David’s role, but it seems like the two would compliment each other instead of detract from one another’s role in attracting the target audience.
The trailer, well…let me be honest. It’s one of the funniest trailers I’ve seen in quite a while, despite a kind of rough beginning. It starts off with David talking directly to the camera, with the people around him seemingly aware of the fact that he’s broken off into some sort of monologue. The guys in back of him look surprised at him wandering off and the camera cuts to a child who points out to his mother that they man across the street is talking to himself. That’s an odd note to hit right off the bat. The content of that rant, that this is not the feel good movie of the year and that those looking to make themselves feel better would be better served elsewhere, is a rare moment of self-deprecating awareness from a Hollywood studio and David sells the line with his usual attitude.
Luckily it rights itself pretty quickly. After that introduction we start to get a sense of the film’s narrative and plot. We see David’s character freaking out – in a very nice apartment – about the fact that he’s going to die some day, which his wife takes to mean he’s dying now, which he isn’t. More scenes of him complaining to his rather unpleasant-looking wife are interspersed with some of him hanging out with his group of more middle-class friends as well as him discovering Wood’s character living in the basement of a building. Eventually her mother and father track her down and the relationship between the three of them and David’s character are obviously going to provide many of the laughs of the film.
Maybe it works for me as well as it does because I’m just a fan of verbal humor. It’s pretty easy to see the same sort of lines being delivered by someone like Groucho Marx or any of the great wordsmiths of comedy, which is a testament, I think, to the power of Allen’s writing.
As you might expect from a small movie with few “bankable” stars and an aging writer/director, the official website is not exactly all that and a bag of chips.
The front page reminds you that the film is first opening only in New York and Los Angeles, as well as the fact that it was an Opening Night selection for the Tribeca Film Festival. From there you can Enter the Site.
Once you do the first section is “Synopsis.” I’ll be frank here: How something that’s so short can also be so poorly written is really quite a feat. The awkward phrasing is truly something to behold and does the film no favors. True, it’s not like a lot of random passers-by are going to be coming here, so this won’t be the first impression of the movie for many. But still, this is pretty bad.
The site designers make up for it to some extent with the “Cast and Crew” section, which contains nice write-ups about the major players in the film, at least those who aren’t Woody Allen. In true non-promotional manner, his listing is purely a filmography and contains no additional text or biographic information at all.
“Gallery” has about 20 stills from the film and its production. “Trailer” has, you guessed it, the trailer.
“Links & Reviews” is actually pretty cool, going a way toward the kind of embrace of the rest of the web that I keep talking about. It contains a link to an NY Observer feature on the movie and links to the IMDb profiles for the major players in the film. That’s a good first step and all but it still could go farther, linking out to fan sites and other reviews and publicity items. Still, a nice feature that a lot of sites completely ignore so I’ll give it the credit it deserves.
There was also a Facebook page for the movie that attracted a somewhat surprising 8,000+ fans. The page contained stills, the trailer, reminders about screenings and some extended clips from the movie.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’ve seen. A quick search of YouTube and Google News confirms there don’t seem to be any TV spots created or promotional partners signed on. Not surprising.
Media and Publicity
Considering the lack of paid support I guess it’s good the film wound up getting plenty of media coverage and other publicity. In addition to the aforementioned appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival the movie was the subject of a number of news stories. Most of those were interviews with Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood or Woody Allen. There were some that drew the line between this movie and “Curb” but most noted its place in Allen’s cinematic history, as is the case anytime the director puts out a new film.
You’re never going to get a full-fledged online effort out of a movie like this. (Well…I could probably recommend three or four ways to get more content there by using a WordPress blog admin setup, but I’ll refrain from that.) But the rest of the campaign comes together quite nicely. As I stated this has one of my favorite trailers and a good poster that focuses on an attribute of the film that’s likely to attract an audience.
All put together it’s a decent effort for the latest film from Woody Allen. Not much more to say, so I won’t try.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 6/19/09: In my column I talked about just a couple of the movies in which Woody Allen has had other actors step in and play some variation on himself. Christopher Campbell at SpoutBlog finds 10 Allen Proxies and talks about how each one did with that role.