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Back in the New York Groove: Woody Allen Opens Tribeca

Joined by festival co-founder Robert De Niro and current leading man Larry David, Woody Allen opened the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday with Whatever Works, a wry romantic comedy starring David and San Francisco International Film Festival honoree Evan Rachel Wood.

Allen, who shot the film in New York after a lengthy European sabbatical, explained his absence as a matter of money (“I do [films] abroad because I can't really afford to shoot in New York,” he told Reuters, echoing sentiments he expressed while promoting last fall’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and revealed the surprising history of his latest work.

"It's a film I had written many years ago for Zero Mostel, and it was in the drawer,” he said. “I thought ‘It doesn't require too much money. Who could possibly do it?’ And then it hit me -- maybe Larry David."

David, the Seinfeld co-creator who has become a household name himself thanks to his popular HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, was initially reluctant to accept the role. But Allen overcame his reservations, and says that should Whatever Works prove a critical or commercial failure, it will hardly be the fault of his actors.

"I give them parts where they don't have to do car crashes or toilet jokes," Allen said. "Maybe the film stinks because I have written a bad script or I have directed it poorly, but the actors get a chance to do well."

So far, word out of Tribeca is decidedly mixed, though an early grade of 20 percent on the Rotten Tomatometer hardly bodes well. David D’Arcy of Screen International argues that the movie works “thanks to David, who is taller, balder and more foul-mouthed than the usual types Allen himself has played.” But Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter isn’t so charitable, accusing Allen of “utter artificiality” in a story marred by “its tired handling of so many overly familiar themes.”

Encouraging? Not really. But if any director has earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s Allen.

Whatever Works is tentatively scheduled to arrive in San Francisco theaters June 19.