Starlet memories

A look back at Woody Allen's dames of whine and neuroses.

BENCH PRESS Larry David forces his perspective on Evan Rachel Wood in Whatever Works.

BENCH PRESS Larry David forces his perspective on Evan Rachel Wood in Whatever Works.

Whatever you might think of Woody Allen’s latest comedy, Whatever Works—you love it, you loathe it or you simply shrug, Larry David--style—there’s the sense that the venerable writer-director may have found a new comic collaborator in the form of Evan Rachel Wood. Should Ms. Wood become his latest muse, she’ll be joining a select group known—unofficially, of course—as Woody’s Women. Here’s a glance back at her predecessors.

Louise Lasser: Though their marriage was kaput by 1969, the former Mrs. Allen still played Woody’s romantic interest in his first two major films: Take the Money and Run (1969) and Bananas (1971). After a brief part in Allen’s sketch-driven 1972 adaptation of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex..., Lasser went on to become TV’s favorite Me Decade handwringer, Mary Hartman. Her importance in the Wood-iverse can’t be underestimated, however; this kooky Noo Yawker set the template for every neurotic female foil that followed.

Diane Keaton: She’ll forever be Annie Hall, of course, though it’s interesting to note how that much-beloved romantic comedy marked a turning point in Diane Keaton’s collaboration with Woody. The hilariously scattered heroines she played in Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975) gave way to intense, tabula rasa characterizations in films like Interiors (1978), with often unintentionally comic results. When they reunited in the post-Farrow years for Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), it seemed too much of an attempt to recapture some long lost magic.

Mia Farrow: Given the catastrophic ending of their relationship, it’s ironic that Mia Farrow’s first film with the Woodman was titled A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982). The whole Soon-Yi scandal cast a retrospective pall over the duo’s decadelong affiliation; it’s all too easy to scour their 13 films for frivolous tabloid insights. How quickly we forget that Allen took Farrow to places—dramatic and comedic—that no other director managed. Prime example: her sotto voce, single-take seduction of Joe Mantegna in the underrated Alice (1990).

Dianne Wiest: “Don’t speak!” Wiest exclaims as imperious Broadway legend Helen Sinclair in 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway—and is there a more ridiculous, impossible-to-act-upon catchphrase in the entire Allen canon? The only performer to win Oscars for two separate Woody films, Wiest is a veteran of five of the director’s best, including 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters, for which she uncorked a heartbreaking turn as a coke-addled, punk-loving self-destructor. Holly is a lovable crazy; maybe that’s why she gets the guy in the end.

Scarlett Johansson: Increasingly seen as Allen’s go-to girl, 24-year-old Johansson has already appeared in three of the director’s latest, shading her persona with notes of earthy neuroticism and growing as an actor. Match Point (2005) had her playing a rain-soaked femme fatale, and Scoop (2006) is better left forgotten. But Johansson triumphed in what was actually the harder part in last year’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, as the flirt who gets hurt, and deserved more credit than her showier costars. She’ll no doubt be back.

Whatever Works opens Fri 19.

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