Whatever Works

Whatever Works movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Woody Allen's latest involves an eccentric (Larry David) who meets a young southern girl (Evan Rachel Wood); soon the pair, along with her parents and his friends, become involved in absurd love stories.
Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Begley Jr.
Director: Woody Allen
Running time: 1:32
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Editorial Review

Reportedly, Woody Allen wrote "Whatever Works" back in the 1970s, then shelved it when his intended star, Zero Mostel, died. Would that it had stayed in the drawer.

This toxic, contemptuous, unforgivably unfunny bagatelle finds Allen at his most misanthropically one-note. Anyone with Allen's compulsive work ethic is bound to produce as many hits as misses; in recent years, the former include the sly Hitchcock homage "Match Point" and the uneven but ultimately pleasing "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

"Whatever Works" belongs firmly in the "miss" category, managing to be simultaneously lazy, inhumane and really kind of creepy.

Larry David plays Allen's alter ego as a grumpy, growling Boris Yellnikoff, a self-described genius who has been living on Manhattan's Lower East Side since trying to escape his first wife by jumping out a window. Boris is a limping, loathsome creature who refers to nearly everyone he meets as "idiots," "incompetent zombies" and "inchworms." One night he finds a runaway named Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), who has fled her life in Mississippi and takes up residence in Boris's loft.

Eventually, Melodie's painfully stereotyped evangelical parents arrive on the scene, played by Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. with as much dignity as they can muster.

In "Whatever Works," no one seems real, not the naive Melodie, and especially not Boris. It's easy to see why Allen cast David in a part that demands all the rancor that he brought to his character on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The problem is that Boris possesses none of David's own fleeting moments of self-awareness.

The result is a contrived wish-fulfillment fantasy, where Boris/Allen gets to have his cake and eat it, too. With its preposterous, self-serving climax (and thoroughly un-earned finale), "Whatever Works" finally plays like a warped kind of summa of Allen's tortured relationship with women. It's clear that in his estimation, they always belong on the bottom -- whether to be intellectually bullied, sexually dominated or simply to cushion a pathetic man's inevitable descent.

-- Ann Hornaday (July 3, 2009)

Contains profanity, sexuality and brief nudity.