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In his first film made on US shores in five years, Woody Allen dusts off an old script he wrote in the 1970ís to give us Whatever Works.  Employing Larry David as his latest avatar, Allen delivers a diatribe on everything from religion to politics to sex with the single-minded fervor of someone whose pessimistic POV has never been challenged by a single opposing voice.  In Whatever Works, not only is there no rebuttal to the outlandish declarations of Boris Yellnikoff, a man so smart he nearly won a Nobel Prize, he informs us, but by the filmís end, this disagreeable chap will not only have gotten the girl, but heíll magically change the lives of everyone he comes in contact with, like a grouchy, Bizarro World Pollyanna.

As written by Allen, Borisí outspoken comments on life and dire prognostications are often amusing, but Larry Davidís whiplash sharp delivery becomes almost the entire point of seeing Whatever Works.  The premise of the film is incredibly slight and the center of it all; Boris gives shelter to Melody {Evan Rachel Wood}, a beautiful Southern teenage runaway who falls head over heels for this balding, middle-aged misanthrope with no prospects of wealth or even decent manners, is patent geriatric male fantasy.  Going even further, before the end credits roll, Boris will have had not just one, but three gorgeous women panting after him for no apparent reason.  If you can suspend your disbelief to go with that absurd notion, the rest of the film is your oyster.  The speed with which sweet, dumb Melody parrots Borisí negativity is blinding; becoming an atheist overnight, because as is inferred throughout the film, believing in any God means youíre stupid.  Next, we meet Melodyís mother, another runaway, all Southern Christian values and not an original thought in her head until Boris and his progressive friends unleash the sexual deviant within.  Out come the black clothes and threesomes as the lady discovers her bohemian side.  Melodyís father tracks them down and finally realises his entire life has been a lie until he gets to the big city.  For all Melodyís initial devotion to Boris, the inevitable occurs and she meets someone born near about the same decade, who doesnít derogatorily refer to her as a ďmicrobeĒ.  The idea that none of the Southern Christians had any cultural awareness or minds of their own until they met Boris could be offensive if it wasnít so cartoonish.  Even the laudable talents of the always-delightful Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr. playing it very broad as Melodyís parents, canít dissolve the sour taste of finger-pointing at the dumb Christian red staters.  While the early scenes of Boris mouthing off about any and everything he sees wrong in the world are a hoot, thereís never any change or growth in the character and itís hard to understand how people can stand to be in the same room with him for very long, much less desire of their own free will to be married to the curmudgeon.  Because weíve seen Borisí solution to a dwindling relationship previously, weíre not entirely sure if he actually had feelings for his teenaged wife, or his actions are just a habit; but once Boris is up and around, heís back to his old crabby self, pursued once more by another attractive young lady. 

Much will be made of Woody Allenís cinematic return of to the streets on Manhattan.  This time the locations shift downtown to Caffe Vivaldi in Greenwich Village, Federal Plaza near City Hall, Chinatown, and the ninety-nine year old Yonah Schimmel knishery.  Placed against the New York locales, the breezy pacing of Whatever Works does feel like a return of sorts to the lighter fare of Allenís earlier films, but the overall piece feels tired, overworked and hollow, despite a great supporting cast clearly chuffed to be in a Woody Allen movie giving it their all.  Powered by Larry David as his new and possibly most successful mouthpiece, Whatever Works seems less a Woody Allen film than a very special episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with Allen as the guest director.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 18th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

© 2006-2014 The Diva Review.com

 

 

 

Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures Classics)

 

 

 

 

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