Although work for many female movie actors starts to disappear as they head north of 40, Patricia Clarkson has been defying the odds for the past decade, with an unusually varied filmography that includes some of the best parts she has played since her screen debut in “The Untouchables” in 1987.
The Yale Drama School grad and stage veteran is one of those all-purpose performers who seems able to play any role she’s given — whether it’s a comedy or a drama. She also displays a real actor’s disdain of the “image” concerns associated with portraying unsympathetic characters.
Clarkson is a flinty New Orleans native who — at the age of 49 — delivers a devastatingly funny (and sexy) performance as a displaced Southerner in Manhattan in the new Woody Allen comedy, “Whatever Works.”
Clarkson gave a solid performance in last year’s Allen hit “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” but it was a small part, with most of the juiciest scenes going to Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
In “Whatever Works” Clarkson is given a series of very funny scenes in which her character is at first horrified by New York City — and what has happened to her daughter there — but then gets into the groove and blossoms in ways she never could have imagined.
Although the film has received some savagely dismissive reviews, I enjoyed seeing Allen deal with new sorts of characters and situations — in his 42nd movie! — including a conservative Southern woman unlike any major character the writer-director has created so far.
Larry David plays an Allen-like New Yorker who hates most of the changes he has seen in the city over the course of his life. In some of the earlier movies, it was easy to tell that Allen sided with the misanthropic urban sophisticates and that he was probably speaking to us through his characters.
The veteran director shakes things up in “Whatever Works,” presenting David’s Boris Yellnikoff as a brilliant and acerbically funny man, but he puts this character’s limited world view to the test, so that our sympathies keep shifting around.
Clarkson plays a key role in this expansion of Allen’s themes and interests and she is absolutely terrific. Let’s hope that the writer-director crafts an even larger and more challenging role for Clarkson soon.