Whatever Works (2009)






THE SCOOP

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Evan Rachel WoodLarry DavidHenry Cavill
Plot:  Attempting to impress his ideologies on religion, relationships, and the randomness (and worthlessness) of existence, lifelong New York resident Boris Yellnikoff rants to anyone who will listen, including the audience.

Genre:  Comedy / Romance
Awards:  -
Runtime:  92min
Rating:  M18 for sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Whatever Works is a new film by the most prolific American filmmaker of his generation – Woody Allen. 

After a four-film hiatus from making pictures in America, the master of neurotic and offbeat romantic comedies returns to his beloved New York to shoot his latest film, a decent modern reworking of themes explored in one of his masterpieces, Manhattan (1979), and a nostalgic throwback to the Allen of old (a welcoming attribute I would say).

In Larry David, Allen has found an actor who could anchor, to a large extent, the role usually played by the director himself, especially in his early films. David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a mostly lonely and isolated old New Yorker whose view of the world is often nihilistic and one of extreme pessimism. 


A self-professed guru of life and its pointlessness, he encounters a penniless young woman named Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) one night, and allows her to seek temporary refuge in his home. Melodie soon grows an affection for Boris and falls in love with him, much to the latter’s objection.

Things change for the bizarre when Melodie’s mother and later, her father find her to be married to Boris. The situation then evolves into a complex (and often hilarious) labyrinth of relationship issues. The screenplay is sharp and witty and occasionally comes close to what Allen would have achieved in his prime. 


The character interplay, especially, is a delight to watch because it explores themes of social prejudice, cross-generational romance, and homosexuality through situational examples which are specially designed to evoke the most laughter.

Interestingly, Whatever Works is like a theatrical play shot on film. Just five minutes into the picture, David’s character breaks the fourth wall and speaks to us at length. Initially, viewers may be uncomfortable with the direction Allen is taking the film. 


Moreover, David does not appear to be very appealing early on; he complains about life and we are forced to awkwardly listen to his irrational ramblings. Any concern that the film will become an exercise in audience endurance slowly disappears with the introduction of Melodie.

Melodie is in my opinion central to whether Allen’s film will succeed or fail. Thankfully, she succeeds in complementing Boris and reduces the awkwardness viewers would have felt during the first-quarter of the film. She is the pivot in which all of the film’s situational contexts balance upon and their eventual relevance to the film’s development as a comical social satire. 


Whatever Works is the same old Allen but different in an odd, washed-and-ironed way. The great American director is capable of much better though.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)





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