Movie Review: Whatever Works (2009)

From the beginning of a Woody Allen comedy, right when the opening credits roll and the old marching band plays, you know you’re in for a treat.  This is a weathered filmmaker with 21 Academy Award nominations under his belt, three of them wins.  This year, he picks a guy who probably best resembles him at his current age and disposition in life, and a girl who probably best represents the age and maturity of women that strike his fancy.  This movie, we can expect, depicts in comedic light, the circumstances by which a guy like today’s Woody and a girl like today’s Woody’s type end up together in an interesting love affair or friendship or stalker-stalkee thing.  Or whatever works.

Our main man, Boris Yellnikoff (another Jewish character typical of Woody Allen movies, although all of the Jew in Boris ends at knish), opens up by telling us, “this is not the feel-good movie of the year”.  He says this in a menacingly assured manner, as if saying let’s trust him on this.  Rightfully so, because the story starts out as a romantic comedy, but quickly develops as character studies and eventually a thesis on relationships that people build around their personalities and those of people they choose to love and spend their lives with.

Boris is played by Larry David who shares Woody Allen’s age, obnoxiousness and receding hairline, and acts well as if he also shares his brilliant mind, as the character requires.  But compared to Woody, Larry has better height, handsomer features, a more engaging eye contact, and stronger delivery of acting lines.  What he could use, however, is a good voice and speech coach, because as you will soon learn, you don’t wanna be anywhere within ear-splitting, drool-spewing range when he opens his mouth to speak.

Evan Rachel Wood is not at all your typical blonde, but rather one of the most talented young actresses of her generation.  She acts the part of Melodie Saint Anne Celestine so accurately, that she carries with meticulous precision her New Orleans accent, her tender 21-year old charm, and her comically surprising blonde outbursts.  This is Ms. Wood’s first comedic performance, but she delivers it so resplendently that it would be shame to make this her last.

The story centers around Boris, an aging divorcé who’s decades away from his last brilliant stint as a renowned physicist, and is now just spending his retired years as New York’s crankiest chess tutor.  Boris meets Melodie, a young adventurer fresh out of Mississippi, on his doorstep after she begged for food and later for a place to sleep.  Boris reluctantly obliges by saying, “I’m too tired to prolong this brutal exchange between a bedraggled microbe and a Nobel-level thinker.”  At this point we know that there isn’t much in common about our boy (more like gramps, but you get the idea) and our girl, but that is exactly what the story attempts to explore.  The intellectual disparity between our two characters sets the platform on which comedy and romance are predicated.

As you get introduced to characters other than Boris and Melodie, you are also welcomed into the world of eccentric lovers and their eccentric relationships.  This, in Boris’s typically pessimistic words, illustrates “the search in life for something to give the illusion of meaning, to quell the panic.”  There’s old man-caretaker, man to man, threesome, extramarital.  This movie is a celebration of the many kinds and forms of love relationships, set in the fabulous Manhattan, center of one of the most romantic cities in the world.  Bible-thumping, god-fearing zealots fresh out of Mississippi are thrown in for maximum comedic effect, in Boris’s words “death by culture shock”.  You also get Henry Cavill, god’s curly-haired gift to womankind.  He starts to talk, and in the very moment he moves his pretty lips, you hear words wrapped in a coat of deep, sexy voice, and right then and there, you know what love is.

If you’ve seen the Emmy-nominated TV series The Big Bang Theory, you are perfectly aware how the blonde-genius comedic engine operates.  But this movie offers three times what you get out of The Big Bang Theory.  You get triple the age of most characters, triple the blonde-genius contrasts, triple the cultural diversity and romantic eccentricity, and you get three times the old-fashioned comedy.

“Whatever works, as long as you don’t hurt anybody.  Any way you can filch a little joy in this cruel dog-eat-dog pointless black chaos.”

It’s great to see Woody Allen back in his roots.  Once again, he delivers.

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5 Responses to “Movie Review: Whatever Works (2009)”

  1. spitsmaster Says:

    That’s why I can’t say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works.

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