Rating: * * * *
Verdict: Highly entertaining.
Larry David has long been a sun-bleached Woody Allen. Though Brooklyn-born, the co-creator of Seinfeld is now indelibly associated with California, the setting of the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm in which he plays a ball of neuroses called ... Larry David.
Angst-ridden comics from different coasts, Allen and David are two sides of the same existential coin but whether David was the ideal person to cast as the liverish Boris Yellnikoff, the main character in Allen's latest film, is a moot point. It's hard for devotees to see past the actor's existing persona, but he certainly gives a great reading of some crackerjack lines.
The script for this film has been lying round since the 70s and there's a lot of 70s Allen in Boris, but gloomy resignation has been replaced by grumpy nihilism and contempt for the human race ("I'm a man with a huge world-view and I'm surrounded by microbes," he says).
A retired physicist, he's fled an intolerably perfect Upper East Side marriage for bachelorhood in Chinatown where he spends his day kvetching to his friends and haranguing the kids he's been hired to teach chess to. Then into his curdled life stumbles Melodie (Wood), a pretty if faded working-class Southern belle, who just may be as old as the 20 years she claims.
Only in the movies - particularly, you may think, an Allen movie - could this improbable pair end up a couple, but as it plays out, it's not quite as queasy as it sounds. The "preposterous" (Boris' word) liaison is less a wish-fulfilment fantasy than a triumph of Melodie's infectious optimism over Boris' reflexive despair.
Melodie's arrival ushers in a small cavalcade of oddball characters led by Melodie's mother (a show-stealing Clarkson) and father (Begley), as the story plays out in unexpected ways.
The neatness with which this all ties up may offend the worldly tastes of 21st century moviegoers and the script sometimes shows signs of its age, sagging slightly in the middle. But it's nice to see Allen finding the soft centre of his doom-laden misanthropy.
Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Begley Jr, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Woody Allen
Running time: 88 mins
Rating: M (sexual references)