Movie Review
Whatever Works
Whatever Works poster
By Craig Younkin     Published July 8, 2009
US Release: June 19, 2009

Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Larry David , Evan Rachel Wood , Patricia Clarkson , Kristen Johnston

PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material.
Running Time: 92 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $5,305,622
C
It’s dull, unpleasant, and it goes in all sorts of unnecessary directions, none of which lead to laughs. As a combining of two great comedic talents, this is a major disappointment.
As a fan of both “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm," I have to say I almost crapped my pants when I saw that Larry David was going to be in a movie. And what happened when I found out that the movie in question was going to be directed by Woody Allen? Well let’s just say those pants can never be worn again. Unfortunately what it all boils down to is nothing but a waste of a pair of good pants. “Whatever Works," a screenplay Allen wrote in the 70’s that’s been collecting dust since then, doesn’t work. It’s dull, unpleasant, and it goes in all sorts of unnecessary directions, none of which really lead to laughs.

David, doing his best Woody Allen impression, plays Boris Yellnikoff, a cranky ex-college professor living in New York who loves nothing more than to rant about the failures of the human species. He’s attempted suicide once, but it didn’t take cause of a canopy. Now his motto is find whatever you can cause it’s all a disaster. Prone to panic attacks and waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats screaming “the horror, the horror," Boris is mean-spirited to everyone, not even the children he teaches chess to are spared from his venom. Just when Mississippi runaway Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) shows up in front of his apartment building hungry and hoping for shelter, he takes pity on the girl and invites her in. This leads to a strange friendship where the slow-witted and impressionable Melodie is molded in Boris’ image. Boris, who thinks love is a disaster just like everything else, soon thinks he’s found an exact match in Melodie and even marries her, though things get complicated when both her parents (Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr.) track her down.

Boris starts the film by talking directly to the audience, never a good sign. What’s worse is that Boris is a downer without a punchline. He rattles off about racism, world wars, how people are mindless cretins and how we're all doomed. He then says “you’re not going to like me.” True that. There are a few funny things here, mostly that work because David does deadpan work as a pessimistic old-coot and Evan Rachel Wood is terrific at playing the naïve and southernly-charming Melody. Her poor concept of sarcasm leads to some of the best laughs, as does a scene where she brings a guy home to meet Boris in the early going. The one who gets the best lines though is Clarkson. Upon hearing of Boris’ failed suicide attempt, she exclaims “You can’t win em all.”

Yet Boris is clearly an asshole not worth spending much time with. He’s so much of one that he even dumps the pieces of a chessboard on a child’s head. In all logic this romance should not work. The major age difference aside, Boris is too much of a crank to love anyone and Melodie is an innocent without much understanding, which leads us to think that she’s being corrupted into accepting Boris and his bleak worldview. Also, why later does the screenplay go in all sorts of different directions, showing Melodie’s mother becoming a famous NY photographer who really likes sex menage-a-trois style and her father learning something new about his own sexuality? And an affair Melody has with a man her age is written too blandly to really see it as any better romance.

More to the point though, “Whatever Works” is mean without the laughs to go along with it. David, Wood, and Clarkson do their best but they’re dealing with a screenplay that’s hard to like and even harder to see what Allen saw in. As a combining of two great comedic talents, I have to say that this is a major disappointment.
Craig's Grade: C
Craig's Overall Grading: 335 graded movies
A11.0%
B41.5%
C31.6%
D15.5%
F0.3%
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