Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood
Watch Whatever Works online in the UK: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Whatever Works sees an ageing male, played by Woody Allen, hook up with a fledgling female, dispensing acerbic wisdom to her about the hopelessness of existence. Sound familiar?
It’s not that Woody has said this all before, it’s that he’s said it better, and funnier. Nowadays, he coasts along at a moderate level, delivering novellas more than masterful literary tomes, never quite recapturing his former glory. He’s like a bespectacled Tim Henman. If Tim Henman had made Annie Hall.
Still, if a film a year is what you get to show for it, Whatever Works isn’t a bad credo for life. It works very well for Boris (David). He’s divorced, sure, and once jumped out a window to commit suicide, but he’s happy in his grumpy lifestyle. Until Melody (Rachel Wood) drops onto his doorstep, desperate for money and food having run away from her right-wing Christian home. Naturally, Boris says no, before relenting and forming an odd-couple relationship with the beautiful girl. Over time, it improbably blossoms into a contented marriage: she, the doting and simple wife; he, the intellectual husband agreeing to tolerate her sub-mental ignorance.
The partnership needs a bit of work and Woody’s lead couple are prepared to put in the effort. As the dumb but kind-hearted Melody, Evan Rachel Wood is a likeable presence, balancing out Boris’ failed physicist with a youthful smile. Larry David, meanwhile, limps around the streets of New York, every bit the surrogate Woody Allen. Espousing his “whatever works” philosophy in between yelling judgemental insults, David relishes his lines like it was still Allen’s 1970 heyday.
That’s mostly because Whatever Works was written then, originally intended for Zero Mostel. But, a quick touch up here and there and the slightly worn screenplay is a good fit for the Curb Your Enthusiasm star. He’s incredulous and bitter, referring to everyone as morons, cretins, or inchworms. And that alone often gets a laugh. Then, when Melody’s mother and absconding father (Ed Begley Jr) arrive on the scene, the laughter count jumps one notch higher. It’s never on a par with Woody’s old-school gag count and the characters and pacing are completely haphazard, but Whatever Works is a pleasant, if dated, change of pace from today’s gross-out humour, and offers a morsel of enjoyment for Allen fans.