Adam's Rib (1949) & Whatever Works (2009)
We surprised ourselves in double-billing a genius 1940's romantic comedy and Woody Allen again. Are we becoming predictable yet? To defend the repetition, we just happened to watch these two close to each other without any intellectual choice. What film suits which evening is a question of comfort zones.
Choosing what we watch in this house is a balancing act. There is my mood and there is Nick's. When I am feeling unsafe and in need of comfort, I want to watch real-life-like drama or comedies or very romantic films. In fact, to watch anything else I need to feel either completely bored or so vivacious and daring that I can handle a bit of action, cinematic violence, being afraid or floating in space. Movies about cowboys are entering a new territory on my map – as you may have noticed – they are beginning to comfort me more and anger me less. I'll tell you about my relationship to epics some other time.
Adam's Rib and Whatever Works are both essentially great scripts where what the characters say actually makes one think and feel. Both films are also ambitions, they want to comment on the big life questions. We can be entertained while thinking about dying or pondering on women's rights. Woody Allen may be one of the only directors left these days who still trusts in this old-fashioned cinematic storytelling. In fact, I don't really understand how in 1949 a film could be so daring, full of content and still entertaining, while in 2010 cinema is mostly saying nothing daring, upsetting, questioning or new.
If I continue this way, I have to admit that Whatever Works is mostly good because of my personal nostalgia. I miss and continue to love the 1940's Hollywood comedy and I miss and love the 1970's Woody Allen films. Whatever Works is like a faded memory scratched to shine in color for a short while.
What has made us so culturally dummed-down and bored? Where is the next artistic platform where we dare to explore and be radical for the sake of change? Tell me someone.
Romance? Laughter? Is life's eternal quest for satisfaction and gratification simply down to these two factors? Is there more? Death plays a big part in the narration of most Woody Allen films. Our ultimate destiny perhaps. Sharing deep friendship with someone is not to be confused with love or the thrill of the chase. Companionship for me comes from somewhere else.
Here are two films that share a focus on relationships and the needs those relationships demand. In Adam's Rib, it's a taking for granted of one partners intelligence. It is also expecting sympathy and understanding to ideals the other half possibly does not understand or agree with. In Adam's Rib, these ideals work both ways.
Whatever Works finds Woody Allen in sharp cynical form, a return to New York no less. Larry David is perfectly cast as the know-it-all grump who educates Southern bimbo Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) on the depressing nature of human existence. Although the picture ultimately deals with cliché and unfeasible plot twists, the presence of David insures that the laughs are subtle and the quality high. It's worth noting that Allen actually says something through David in this picture, philosophizing on various issues during his straight to camera addresses.
Adam's Rib is a lesson in onscreen chemistry, Hepburn and Tracy's very public battle of the sexes, given credence by the couple's genuine affection for each other. It's almost embarrassing to watch the intimacy on camera, but it convinces all the same.
I don't know if I laughed much during either film, or felt pangs of romantic feeling overwhelm me (actually I know I didn't). But both films left me thinking in different ways, at their core they carried different views on how this relationship business works. The ultimate message? Keep trying.