Whatever Works Directed by: Woody Allen Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 26, 2009 (Limited)
Plot: An intelligent misanthrope (David) has an unlikely relationship with a girl from Mississippi (Wood) who is nearly 40 years younger than him.
Who’s It For? Woody Allen fans, especially those who can appreciate his lighter fare. Whatever Works is also for people who want to experience dating comedies that are a bit more fruitful and still incomparable to the other stuff coming out today.
Expectations: After a morbid trip to London (Scoop, Cassandra's Dream) and a spicy trip to Spain, (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), it seemed like Woody would be settling back in the coziness of both New York City and making light comedies about young women being enamored with old dudes.
Actors: Larry David as Boris Yellnikoff: Only a couple of episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" are needed to understand why his unique comedic presence fits here. Because of such a persona, David is able to give Allen's sharp dialogue a bit more bite than previous characters who have felt like Woody surrogates. It's a no-brainer that David is funny as Boris, a disgruntled and self-proposed genius. But having said all of this, both this film and role would've benefitted from Woody playing the role, especially since it would have continued the personal nature of the story. Maybe I just want to see him act at least one more time, but regardless, watching Woody Allen berate his "inchworm" chess students would have been even more comedically delightful. Score: 7
Evan Rachel Wood as Melodie St. Ann Celestine: This performance won’t get the attention Woody tends to earn for his female characters (Penelope Cruz, Dianne Wiest, Judy Davis, etc). Though airheadedly charming, she needs the stone wall of David to bounce off to reach full effect. Also, Wood has it too easy. Playing up dumb, pretty, and Southern shouldn't be thought of as too impressive these days. Score: 6
Patricia Clarkson as Marietta: A wacky instrument for the continuation of Allen's fascination with watching unintelligent imbeciles overdose on their culture shock. To her credit, Clarkson is amusing as both an ignorant right wing nut as she is as an artiste, even if her character is a tad too exaggerated on both sides of the spectrum. Score: 6
Talking: The sharp dialogue is hit or miss on drawing laughs, while some of Larry David's rantings are a bit more exhaustive than others. Boris spews obscure words that would confuse a dictionary, making most of us kind of feel a bit like Melodie. Score: 6
Sights: Of course, Allen's beloved New York gets a supporting role with its numerous on-location shots. Wonderfully, his credit sequences have still not changed a bit. Allen has still not last touch for the extensive take, which in turn allows his characters and their dialogue to remain as natural as possible. Score: 7
Sounds: "Hello, I Must Be Going," as sung by Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers, makes for a great lead-in to a collection of songs that isn't much different from Allen's previous soundtracks. Antonio Carlos Jobim also makes an appearance or two. Of course Beethoven gets played, and humorously so. Score: 8
Best Scene: The introduction, which has a very amusing Larry David breaking the fourth wall unexpectedly, offers a great sample of the personal and unique experience that will be Whatever Works.
Ending: A resolution that does not go along with Boris' negativity, as it shows the different sides of his famous philosophy "whatever works."
Rewatchability: As much as this one isn't a gut buster, it's still a comedy that can be enjoyed more than once.
Woody Allen may be correct in demanding that his films are fictional – or in his case, not self reflective. But regardless of how accurate the similarities between his life and the film may be, Whatever Works is still a rather personal movie that banters straight from the mind of Woody. Life is short, dull, full of pain, and as he said in Annie Hall, "over much too quickly." The film has the same kind of thought process of his printed work, especially his short stories from the 1970s (which is when this script was originally written).
David, Wood, and Clarkson are an entertaining bunch that fit well into Allen's common ingredients of age transcendence, culture shock, pessimism, and unusual couplings. And though its a light comedic work heavy on anecdotes and philosophies, the film has an amount of laughs that just about Works.
Final Score: 6/10