Whatever Works

Whatever Works

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

For the first time since 2004's Melinda And Melinda, Woody Allen has shifted his gaze from Europe back to the New York streets he trod so memorably in the days when the wow-to-whoa-there ratio in his back catalogue was a lot higher. And Whatever Works doesn't just mark a shift back to the city of his heart but also a step back in time to the period that saw him hit the highs of Manhattan and Annie Hall. Originally begun more than three decades ago - with Zero Mostel in mind for the lead role - the threat of a looming actors' strike (that, in fact, didn't go ahead) in early 2008 saw Allen opt to dust off an old screenplay that was near completion, so he could shoot earlier than scheduled.

The result is a broad comedy - more in line with Allen's earlier work such as Sleeper and, perhaps, a little dated on account, than his more recent films - which shines a spotlight on the farcical nature of humans and relationships, frequently breaking the fourth wall in the process.

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Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David steps into the Mostel role of the, unsurprisingly, neurotic Boris. He's a fifty/sixtysomething physicist - all fizz, if there ever was any, having long-since left him - who believes most of the population are merely "microbes" in the face of his genius. "People make life so much worse than it has to be," he grumbles. One night, however, he finds Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) down and out and on his doorstep. She's a sunnyside up gal from Mississippi, the yin to his yang in terms of 'studied intelligence' and attitude to life. Rather than cheering him up, however, she becomes a follower of his philosophy and an unlikely - although, since this is Woody Allen, you might say likely - May-to-December relationship forms.

Oddly, given David's general misanthropic magnificence in other roles, he is the weakest link in the film. While there's nothing wrong with breaking the fourth wall to invite the viewer to huddle in closer for a joke, his performance is incredibly stagey, with asides to the audience feeling less like conspiratorial winks than pieces cut loose from a stand-up routine. This is problematic since we really need to believe his character in order to go with the more farcical aspects of the plot. His failings are, in part, compensated for by a very solid turn from Wood, who brings a surprising amount of credibility to her wide-eyed innocent abroad, and enjoyable appearances by Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jnr as her mother and father.

As always with solid Allen, however, it's the one-liners that really carry the film. If one doesn't quite sparkle as it should, fear not, since another will be along shortly. All come laced with a sort of cosy dead pan that makes you feel that while you may well have heard this sort of thing before, the familiarity of the humour makes you love it all the more. This may not win any awards for cinematic prowess, or be vintage Allen, but there's an upbeat and comfortable retro feel to the comedy that is surprisingly addictive.

Reviewed on: 25 May 2010
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An misanthropic New Yorker develops a relationship with a young woman from Mississippi.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jnr

Year: 2009

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, France

Festivals:

SSFF 2009

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If you like this, try:

Sleeper