Delivers on every front
Film: Whatever Works Director: Woody Allen Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley jr
LET US SAY THAT, FOLLOWING ON the critical and commercial success of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen is on a bit of a roll with his hilarious new film, Whatever Works. I’m anxious to say so, because Allen has had a sporadic recent career – but now he’s made two very good films in a row. If the next one’s good, I will start to get very excited indeed.
It doesn’t hurt that Whatever Works stars Larry David, the creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is my favourite comedy show of recent times.
David was also the creator of Seinfeld, but Curb is far edgier. It finds its humour in extreme discomfort. To see a great episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm is to know what it means to truly cringe.
David as a performer is someone you can be extremely fond of, or despise absolutely. I fall firmly in the former camp, so I not only tolerate but take pleasure in his style, which is based largely on irritation; both his and yours.
In Whatever Works, David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a disillusioned cynic, selfproclaimed genius and a general dampener of the spirits of all he encounters. A former physicist who was “almost nominated for the Nobel Prize”, Boris has a marriage behind him, ruined through his inability to be happy, along with a predictably failed suicide attempt. Teaching chess to a hapless bunch of children – he insults and beats upon the head with the chess board – Boris sits around shooting the breeze with his quizzical chums, propagating his particular brand of misanthropy. His basic philosophy is “whatever works”: take whatever morsels of happiness you can get, by whatever means necessary. There’s no bigger, better plan, so don’t hold out for anything more.
Into this dreadful life comes a breath of fresh air. Boris finds young Melody St Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) on his doorstep one night, and she begs to be taken in and given a bite to eat. Some would be grateful to find a beautiful young woman on their doorstep. Boris, of course, is convinced that she will murder and rob him.
Eventually he relents and lets her in. It is a while before she leaves.
To Boris, Melody – a naïve young thing from the South experiencing New York for the first time – is an idiot, an “inchworm” in his parlance, but he gets used to having her around, and giving her a potted history of human intellectual endeavour, while convincing her that the world is a mess and all is ultimately meaningless. Still, she proposes, they are married, and a year zips by, seemingly happily.
And then Melody’s conservative Southern parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley jr) rock up, separately, in New York, and things take a drastic turn.
Both are shocked at how much the city has changed their daughter, and by her choice of a curmudgeon as a mate, but soon find the city changing them too, and not in ways they could possibly have predicted.
And young Melody, the novelty of Boris’s cynicism and intellectual “superiority” having lost its sheen somewhat, also finds herself straying from the narrow path.
Of course much of this is absolutely absurd, farcical even, and Allen is happy to lay it on as thick as he possibly can, but Whatever Works really worked for me.
The choice of David is fiendishly good, and the one-liners and extended monologues are extremely funny. It’s a pretty old-school Allen comedy (he rewrote a script he first wrote some three decades ago) and delivers on virtually every front. It’s by no means a great Woody Allen film, but it’s a good one, and that’s good enough.