He came, he saw, he fled.
Woody Allen stood in a corner of the River Café last night, hard by the exit, and beheld a seething mob of celebrities come to Brooklyn to celebrate the auteur’s latest film, Whatever Works. The expression on his face: mild alarm, in danger of escalating to silent scream. All those comically lugubrious themes in Allen’s movies—including this one—about the insignificance of human existence, the indifference of the cosmos, the impossibility of sustained happiness? It’s apparently not a pose—this guy actually believes it.
“In the whole thing I felt like I was being punched in the gut,” Brooke Shields said. “But then I was very surprised by the ending.”
So, after a few minutes of minimal schmoozing, the 73-year-old Allen and his much-younger wife of the past dozen years, Soon Yi, summoned their black limousine, said goodbye to überpublicist Leslee Dart, and vanished into the night.
They missed a good party.
Andrew Saffir’s Cinema Society had teamed up with Moët & Chandon and The New Yorker magazine, where Allen has been a regular contributor since the William Shawn era, to water-taxi the partygoers across the East River to the famed restaurant under the Brooklyn Bridge. The SRO crowd included Gerard Butler, Blaine Trump, Martha Stewart, Julianna Margulies, and Dick Cavett, the director’s old friend from the New York comedy clubs circa early 1960s, and members of the cast, including Patricia Clarkson, Evan Rachel Wood, and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David—who, not surprisingly, plays the movie’s misanthropic protagonist.
But far from exploring his Inner Curmudgeon, David was beaming.
“Yeah, I liked it,” he agreeably responded to an admirer who had just told him she “loved” the film.
David told me he had to overcome a case of nerves before accepting the challenge of carrying the movie—and also had to disrupt his Curb schedule. “We were in the midst of writing the new season when I got the call,” he said. “So we just put it on hold.”
Why would David turn his life upside down for Woody Allen?
“Because he’s the best. What comedian wouldn’t want to work with him? The fact was, I didn’t want to do it at first. I was a little intimidated. I called him and said, ‘I don’t know about this. I don’t know if this is such a great idea.’ He kind of talked me off the ledge. He thought I could do a good job.” The tipping point? “I read the script,” David said. “The script was brilliant— I thought.”
Patricia Clarkson, who was in last year’s much-lauded Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is back for seconds—playing the ditsy but determined mother of the Evan Rachel Wood character, who falls for the graying, balding David. (Older men hooking up with much younger women is a leitmotif of both Allen’s films and his life.)
“He asked me back for seconds—that’s why I came back, so I’m lucky,” Clarkson told me. “He has great trust and confidence in you—great trust. You have to do your homework. Every night is a school night when you’re working with Woody. You have to be prepared. You have to know your character, you have to know your lines, you have to know how to improv. But then, once you know all that, it’s yummy.”
One moviegoer, glamazon Brooke Shields, gave me a spot review.
“It definitely brought me down,” she said. “In the whole thing, I felt like I was being punched in the gut, but then I was very surprised by the ending. It was: Whatever works. How interesting life can be, and how surprising it is, and how things don’t have to be conventional.”
She added: “I enjoyed it, but I feel his pain.”
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.