Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Begley Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Henry Cavill, Kristen Johnston, Michael McKean
RunTime: 1 hr 32 mins
Released By: Festive Films & GV
Rating: M18 (Mature Content)
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/
Opening Day: 10 September 2009
Boris Yelnikoff an eccentric New Yorker (Larry David) abandons his upper class life to lead a more bohemian existence. He soon meets a naïve, impressionable young runaway from the south (Evan Rachel Wood). When her uptight parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.) arrive to rescue her, they are quickly drawn into wildly unexpected romantic entanglements. He soon discovers that life among the nonconformists isn't quite as carefree as he'd envisioned it to be. Everyone soon discovers that finding love is just a combination of lucky chance and appreciating the value of Whatever Works!
Why does one go to a Woody Allen film? To hear Woody Allen speak, of course. Not literally, since the prolific writer-director is of late determined to let his neurotic persona be channelled through actors such as Kenneth Branagh, Scarlett Johansson and in “Whatever Works”, Larry David. They may be different faces in front of the camera, but once they start talking, that unmistakeable image quite automatically conjured up in your head is the diminutive Woody Allen.
“Whatever Works” is Allen’s return to Manhattan after a consecutive five films in Europe, based on a story that he reportedly wrote some 30 years ago. His protagonist is the terminally bitter Boris Yellinoff (played by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David), an authority on quantum mechanics who was once considered for the Nobel Prize in Physics. But as life would have it, Boris didn’t win- now, the 50-plus year old spends his days sharing his most politically incorrect, pessimistic and downright scathing views about the world with his neighbourhood friends and with-us!
Yes, us. Halfway through a remarkable opening monologue where he rants about Christians, Christianity and religion, he turns to the audience and speaks right into the camera. He tells us about himself, a man who has nightmares about death but tries (albeit unsuccessfully) to end his own life by jumping out of his window, only to land on the canopy and wind up with a limp. There’s plenty of irony, plenty of sarcasm and plenty of cynicism here- all courtesy of Allen himself.
Almost no one is spared- besides Christians and Christianity, Jews, Mormons, black people, a certain black president of the United States, the people who carry guns, the National Rifle Association, good-hearted (read: naïve in Allen’s terms) Southern belles, and the list goes on. Indeed, you could almost say “Whatever Works” is one of Allen’s most personal films, where almost every tirade the Allen-doppelganger Boris Yellinoff delivers on-screen is a reflection of the filmmaker’s own unrestrained opinions.
But the film is also possibly his most self-indulgent- his protagonist Boris finds a fresh-faced innocent girl from the south, Melody St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), one night on his way home, reluctantly gives her a place to stay, and pretty soon finds himself the object of her affection in spite of his obvious dourness. It’s a romance right smack reminiscent of Allen’s own 56-22 relationship with his present wife, Soon-Yi Previn (Allen was 56 and Soon-Yi was 22 when their relationship first came to light) and one that is just as unlikely and controversial.
This unlikely pairing allows Allen to unleash his acerbic broadsides at the young naiveté’s sugar-coated view of the world, which of course in Allen’s perfect setting, means that said blond will be duly amazed and eventually come to see the world the way Allen (or Boris) sees it. There’s no doubt that you’ll find Boris’ litany of abuse at Melody amusing, even hilarious at times, but “Whatever Works” boasts more than a full hour of it- and Allen’s condescension does wear thin after a while.
Thank goodness then for Evan Rachel Wood, who gives an unexpectedly gusty and humorous performance as Melody. She is a perfect foil for the consistently disagreeable Boris, in fact played quite agreeably and with just the right amount of dry wit by the very funny Larry David. Once again Allen’s casting is spot-on and both Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr are brilliant in their supporting turns, the duo playing Melody’s staunch Christian parents who are converted to Boris’s live-and-let-live, “whatever works” philosophy in life.
And you will be too, mostly laughing and occasionally cringing at Allen’s undiluted scathing wit delivered with great panache through an equally outstanding cast. It is Allen’s unique voice that we have grown to love and hate at the same time through his numerous films; and while “Whatever Works” may not be his best, it contains more than enough of what we’ve loved about Allen to really, truly work.
(Allen’s neurotic tartness may be at his most self-indulgent- but his acerbic wit is as sharp and funny as ever)
Review by Gabriel Chong