Whatever Works movie review: Cynical New Yorker Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) dislikes just about everyone and everything. (As he informs us in an opening monologue addressed to the camera, “I’m not a likable guy. Charm is not a priority with me.”) But when he meets dim-witted Southern runaway Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), he agrees to let her move in with him so she won’t have to live on the streets. That kicks off a chain reaction of unexpected events including an awkward marriage between Boris and Melody, and Melody’s parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) arriving in the city to separately seek their own unlikely bliss.
The buzz: It’s quite a potent combination of talent we have here. Movie-a-year workaholic Woody Allen, fresh off the career revitalizing success of last year’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” returns to New York for the first time since 2004’s “Melinda and Melinda.” His unconventional leading man is “Seinfeld” creator and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star David, who steps into a role Allen originally conceived years ago for late comedian Zero Mostel (“The Producers”). And rising star Wood, in her first light comedy role, adds further spice to the mix.
The verdict: One of Allen’s minor efforts, the breezy and broad “Whatever Works” still surpasses most of his output this decade, scoring as a solid comedic diversion for audiences in search of smart laughs. David’s bitter delivery perfectly suits Allen’s misanthropic characterization, providing a fresh alternative to what the director himself might have done in the part. (“Curb” remains the strongest showcase for David’s quick-witted skills, but based on the strength of his performance here, further film work would be welcome.) Wood’s role is more of a lil’ ol' Mississippi cliché, though Allen’s script is quick to point out: “Sometimes a cliché is the best way to make one’s point.” The point of “Whatever Works” is easy enough to swallow—if you find something that makes you happy and you’re not hurting anyone, go for it, no matter what anyone else thinks. Allen’s execution—dim, repressed Red Staters get liberated in the big city—will register best with his core audience. He’s not going to win many new fans with “Whatever Works,” but those who have weathered Allen’s creative ups and downs will be happy to see him moving in the right direction.
Did you know? The details of Boris and Melody’s sexual relationship are wisely glossed over until a late in the action reference to Viagra. The less we know about that, the better.
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