Enjoyable, mature comedy that's well worth a look.
Woody Allen's hardly been at the peak of his game of late, especially when he ventures outside of Manhattan. Match Point and Cassandra's Dream were not exactly high points in the man's career. Returning back to Noo Yawk, Whatever Works certainly feels more like a 'golden age' Allen film by starring Larry David, someone uniquely placed to carry off the brand of cynicism, misanthropy and neuroses that, worryingly, became Allen's brand. It's also got an old man marrying a young girl, but let's skip over that for now.
Larry David takes the role of Boris, divorced from his wife after having an existential crisis followed by a panic attack followed by a dive out of a window. While his attempted suicide obviously didn't work, it's certainly changed his life, going from a respected Professorial position to occasionally teaching chess to young kids, with the bulk of his time spent calling everyone outside of his understandably small circle of friends idiots.
His no sympathy, no concessions approach takes a bit of a knock after returning home from another session of pontificating with his friends and entirely disassembling the fourth wall, finding the young Harmony (Evan Rachel Wood) kipping on his doorstep after running away from her home in the South. Agreeing to take her in on a temporary basis, complications arise when this turns into a longer term stay, with Harmony, barely believably, falling in love with Boris, and just about as believably, Boris reciprocating despite Harmony's charming but brainless personality being pretty much everything Boris was railing against.
Whatever works, right? Grab any happiness you can and all that. This isn't anything like complicated enough for an Allen film, so in short order Harmony's mother shows up having split from her husband, quickly reinventing herself as a bohemian artist from a base of uptight God-botherer. Still not complex enough. How about said husband showing up, with similar character volte face?
None of the relationships in Whatever Works are remotely plausible, and we would be well placed not to dwell on them for any length of time. The basic point of the piece seems to reduce to "Love's a funny old game, innit", which is as valid an observation as it ever was, but hardly an earth shattering revelation.
Dialogue is, as is fairly usual in Woody Allen films, not the single most naturalistic aspect of his writing, and it has resulted in a few performances that border on stilted. Indeed, most of the film has that overly enunciated, projected to the back of the room feeling that's born of a stage production rather than a film.
This is probably more forgivable in this film than most others, as from the outset this is making no bones about telling you very clearly that you are watching a comedy and not a documentary in a way so audacious that it pretty much pulls it off.
It's perhaps slightly over-reductionist to say that this film reduces to Larry David shouting at people for a few hours, but even if it did I'd be entirely on-board with that scenario. While the characters and language are about as natural as the colour of Sunny Delight, it's certainly wittily written and well delivered.
It's not classic Allen, but not much outside the Seventies is, and of his more recent works this is definitely in the top tier. It's consistently amusing in that sort of 'ahaha, how clever' way, rather than delivering any outright bellylaughs, but it's an enjoyable, mature comedy that's well worth a look in.
Evan Rachel Wood (Melodie St. Ann Celestine)
Patricia Clarkson (Marietta Celestine)
Henry Cavill (Randy Lee James)
Michael McKean (Joe)