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Whatever Works

Released: 2009

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 1 hr 32 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr, Michael McKean

Woody Allen comedy about a curmudgeonly old New Yorker (Larry David) who falls for a 19-year-old (Evan Rachel Wood).

Effervescent and funny.

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 8 years ago

I saw this about a month after it received fairly savage reviews from the mainstream critics, and I’m honestly perplexed at the negative response. Saner critics (as well as most audiences, by the way) agree that this is Woody Allen’s funniest picture in years. If I had to choose (and boy, are there a lot to choose from – Woody has released a picture a year since 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy), I’d say this is his funniest since 2000’s Small Time Crooks. I’m guessing the critics who hated it weren’t in the mood to spend 90 minutes with a misanthrope (something to do with self-hatred, I gather).

Woody hasn’t had a starring role since 2002’s Hollywood Ending. He’s a bit old (74) for that sort of thing now, and that works just fine for Whatever Works. He’s found a wonderful, curmudgeonly old surrogate in Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld and star of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. David’s hysterical acting style and Allen’s one-liners are a match made in comedy… well, I was going to say heaven, but Allen doesn’t believe in heaven, so let’s just say they make a good match.

David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a retired physicist who spends most of his time these days berating kids in Central Park and telling anyone who will listen that life is hopeless. One night a homeless girl, Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), asks for his help and he reluctantly takes her in. They make quite a pair, these two: Boris the self-described genius and Melodie the dumb-as-a-brick know-nothing from the South. The fact that half a century separates their birthdates doesn’t prevent them from falling in love and getting married. Some audiences will snicker at this part of the movie because of Allen’s personal life, but the movie is so effervescent and funny that I suggest you just go with it.

Did I mention how wrong the reviews were? They made it sound like spending time with Boris would be about as much fun as watching a sadistic Michael Haneke movie, like Funny Games. But David is delightful in this movie, very pleasant company indeed – especially when he’s addressing the audience directly, or when he wakes up in the middle of the night screaming about the hopelessness of it all. This is Allen’s funniest protagonist in years.

The supporting cast is terrific, especially Wood and the actors who play her parents, Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. These master thesps play stupid like nobody’s business. All of them are redeemed in the surprisingly moving finale, which left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. I knew Allen could make a feel-good movie because I’ve seen Radio Days. I just didn’t know he had another one left in him.