In “The Remarkable Laziness of Woody Allen,” Christopher Orr has it about right, though perhaps lacking the degree of admiration his thesis should inspire. For what Woody Allen, New York filmmaker, has done is carry on a career for three decades (after his early rise and 70s-era apogee) on Epicurean grounds. A lesson to us all.

Though Allen, now 81, has maintained his frenetic pace of one feature film a year since 1982, his more recent output has been generally, yet gently, judged a disappointment. His best films of the past 20 years—Match Point, Blue Jasmine—are solid but overrated, perhaps because so many of us dream of a return to his early form.

Orr’s thesis is neatly summarized in the tag line: “Putting next to no effort into his films is the secret to sustaining his reputation.”

The upshot has been that Allen’s stature as an important filmmaker (unlike his personal reputation) has proved surprisingly sturdy—despite the withering self-assessments he offers every so often. In an interview during the filming of Match Point, he described himself as “functioning within the parameters of my mediocrity,” and went on to note that if he were ever to make another great film, it would be “by accident.” False modesty? Some, no doubt. But we would do best to take his words at face value.

For years the evidence has accumulated: Allen is an astonishingly lazy director. Often this fact gets a positive spin, as when he is described as “an actor’s director”—code for the reality that he offers his performers little or no guidance and tries to complete every scene in as few takes as possible. Here, again, Allen is bluntly honest. “I’m lazy and an imperfectionist,” he explained in a 2015 NPR interview. “Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.”

Droll, it is, that the hook upon which this article is hung is a fawning book by a man named “Lax”!

Orr’s major contribution, here, I will not spoil. Read the essay in The Atlantic. How does Woody Allen’s coasting career work? How has Woody gone so far on his hoary masterwork movies — his “early, funny ones”? Orr explains.

I have long admired Woody Allen’s modus operandi, as witnessed in the past two or three decades; I see it as “inertial mastery” — coasting as an art form. He makes pleasant entertainments for distracted smart people, without the bother of great effort on anyone’s part. Genius forbidden. Or at least well-sublimated to practical constraints.

For the record, I couldn’t get past the eleventh minute of Irrational Man, but I thought Blue Jasmine was almost great; Whatever Works was not bad (tho completely blown out of the water by its star’s Netflix comedy, Clear History); and the award-winning Midnight in Paris was somehow annoying, irksome because so winsome, as if a scrap from a Wes Anderson film had taken on a life of its own and commandeered a movie studio, complete with a zombie stars and zombie director.

Hollywood Ending, on the other hand, is far worse  a vexation until its one good joke, the very conclusion, which almost makes up for the whole affair. One wonders whether we Woody fans are now desperate that Woody’s career will somehow mirror that specific travesty, redeemed by one near-death, ectoplasmic spit take — one final, good guffaw. To end it all.

Or put it another way, the bulk of Woody’s film career can be compared to the uxoriousness of a very old couple: everything is now memories and photo albums and winks to the past. The romance is dead; love live the romance! (Oh, and pass me the Gefilte.)

Match Point, I believe, is the most instructive Woody effort . . . in how it failed. It was simply not tight enough or acted well enough to deliver on its thesis; the technique didn’t match the point, so to speak. For yes, it had promise: its premise. But boy, was the acting bad, the pacing sloppy. That is why, despite its magnificent idea — a high concept perhaps better than the similar animating notion to the first of Woody’s “over-praised phase” masterworks, Crimes and Misdemeanors — it was a mis-serve.

And yet . . . I still watch Woody Allen’s movies. Most of them, anyway.

Why? For the same reason one still eats meals: it is better than dying.


N.B. I like to think that the Larry David detail from the Whatever Works poster is a fitting mirror to the Woody Problem.