Whatever Works
dir-scr Woody Allen
with Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr, Henry Cavill, Conleth Hill, Olek Krupa, Christopher Evan Welch, Carolyn McCormick, Jessica Hecht, John Gallagher Jr, Michael McKean
release US 19.Jun.09
09/US Wild Bunch 1h32
Whatever Works
Meeting of the minds: Wood and David

clarkson begley cavill
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Whatever Works More like a play than a movie, this crotchety comedy generates consistent laughs through its sarcastic nihilism and colourful characters. But it's so offhanded that it feels unfinished.

Cranky genius Boris (David) is out with his friends when he turns to the camera and starts narrating his life, recounting his breakup from brainy wife Jessica (McCormick) and how he took in young homeless Melodie (Wood), whose deep dopiness turns out to be rather attractive. Then her fiercely religious mother (Clarkson) arrives to shake things up, followed by her stick-in-the-mud dad (Begley) and a handsome wannabe actor (Cavill). But as Boris says, "If it helps you get through life: whatever works."

Several of Allen's recurring themes are here, from the cynical worldview to the older man/younger woman relationship. Not to mention the fact that a female performance steals the film: Clarkson's turn as the liberated Southern belle is absolutely hysterical. And while David is clearly playing the Allen surrogate, his constant tirades are packed with hilarious observations delivered with a playfully smart vocabulary.

Along the way, the film taps into the current climate of angst about personal health, economics, climate change and political instability, although Allen's answer seems to be to just shrug it off. This attitude never quite gels with Boris' nasty superiority complex, as he calls those around him "inchworms" and reminds everyone that he was almost nominated for a Nobel Prize in physics. In other words, he's the real idiot in this film. Despite some mannered acting, the banter is snappy and playfully clever, especially as Boris and Melodie start rubbing off on each other (although we never for a second believe they've fallen in love).

Ultimately, the film finds emotional resonance in entropy, the idea that once your life has changed you can't go back. Fate has more power than our dreams and schemes, and we will only be happy if we can be ourselves and both get and give love along the way. Allen orchestrates all of this in a rather bland visual way, with limited sets and lots of surreal talking to-camera. Actually, this makes it feel less like a play than a rehearsal for a play. Which is perhaps the whole point.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 6.Jul.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall