WHATEVER WORKS ****
WOODY ALLEN is on a roll.
He will go down in history as one of the most accomplished auteurs of the 20th century. So it really should come as no surprise that, even in his seventies, his work is as fresh, provocative and wildly funny as it’s ever been.
Many directors have a period when they’re in peak form…and then slowly fade from view. But Woody just keeps going, creating good to great pictures effortlessly and easily. He’s still amazingly prolific and shows no signs of slowing down.
He seems to be in the midst of another golden period, which is something that all cinephiles should be immensely grateful for.
WHATEVER WORKS is not only further proof of Woody’s majestic genius, but it makes you wonder what superlative gems he’ll delight us with in the future.
BORIS YELLNIKOFF (LARRY DAVID) is more than a curmudgeonly male of advanced intellect in his sixties.
He’s a full blown misanthropist.
To him, there is no point to living. Existence is the biggest bleakest joke there ever was. People are stupid incompetent fools with atrocious grammar and no functioning brain cells.
You can never get anything that you want. If by some strange twist of fate you actually do, so what? Something (or somebody) will come along and ruin it eventually anyway.
To get himself through this irredeemable black hole, Boris has come up with his own personal philosophy: Whatever works.
By that he means, take any measure of happiness, pleasure or grace that you’re given and enjoy it to the fullest. As long as you’re not hurting anyone else, grab it and don’t let go. It doesn’t matter if no one else understands or if it makes no sense to them.
Run with the fleeting moments and make a symphony out of them. You never know if they’ll pass your way again.
Boris also has a hilarious habit of breaking the fourth wall. He doesn’t mind addressing us as the audience. He knows we’re out there. As far as he’s concerned, we paid too much money to watch.
“Look, this is not the feel good movie of the year. If that’s what you’re looking for, leave. If you’re one of these idiots that wants to feel good, go out and get yourself a foot massage.”
Boris was a brilliant scientist who was considered for the Nobel prize. He had the classically envied New Yorker’s life: money to burn and an elegant wife with her own successful career.
Boris is difficult to live with. He and Jessica are admirably suited to each other. On paper, they were practically a perfect pair. But he has panic attacks and suffers from depression.
As time wears on, he becomes increasingly bitter and cynical. They decide that, despite their strong feelings for each other, it’s time to end the marriage.
Boris responds to this by jumping out a window and attempting suicide.
(Yes, this is a comedy…)
As soon as he recovers, Boris begins all over again. He immerses himself in a more bohemian way of life. He has no desire for female companionship of any kind. Boris is determined to remain alone until he dies.
Somewhat ironically at this point, a spunky, magnetically attractive 21 year old southern blonde with the improbable name of MELODY ST. ANN CELESTINE (EVAN RACHEL WOOD) sashays into Boris’ closed off world.
She finds herself on the street with nowhere to stay. Alone and friendless, she asks him if he might offer her something to eat.
Boris insults her harshly. According to him, she has no business being in New York. She’s a cracker. Besides, if she thought that she was any kind of a looker because she’d won a few beauty pageants in Mississippi, he can assure her that the competition in the big city is at a ridiculously high level.
Here, she’s nothing but a 3. (Melody is so far from a 3 it’s ludicrous.)
Boris doesn’t even want to converse with her. But she won’t leave him alone. She keeps talking relentlessly. He finally decides to give her some food in the hope that she’ll quiet down and be on her way.
But Melody is nervous on her own. She wonders if she could possibly spend the night. Though much less than sympathetic, even Boris has to admit that New York can be a rough place – especially after dark. So he reluctantly tells her that she can stay.
But tomorrow she’ll have to go and sponge off someone else. And no, she can’t watch TV. If he catches her looking at it, she’ll be out the door in five seconds flat.
Melody ends up remaining indefinitely.
Boris is initially contemptuous of Melody’s small town ways and utter naivete. When he’s nasty or impatient with her, Melody just laughs it off or pretends not to understand what he’s saying. She’s a caring person, big hearted and forgiving.
Boris discovers she’s rather useful around the place. But that doesn’t stop him from suggesting that she find a job eventually and move out.
Slowly and very gradually, Boris begins to soften under Melody’s sunshiny presence. He doesn’t even understand how much he’s come to depend on her. Melody finds a job as a dog walker. She’s actually much smarter than Boris first realized and far more resourceful.
After months of staying at Boris’, Melody meets a young man who asks her out on a date. Boris feels threatened and is incredibly disapproving. He is rather upset when Melody’s date mistakes him for her father. He’s even less impressed when the younger man corrects himself and refers to him as her grandfather.
But Melody is bored on her date. She spends the entire time missing Boris. With her out of the house being entertained by another man, Boris begins to realize how much Melody does mean to him.
Melody has become greatly influenced by Boris’ opinions and philosophies. She has begun to refer to people as ingrates and morons. She understands that life has no meaning. Boris no longer considers her a 3. She might be an 8…or even more.
Boris asks Melody to marry him. Thrilled to bits, she accepts immediately.
Their union is surprisingly solid and unstrained. Melody enjoys taking care of Boris. She makes sure that his health is fine. She opens him up sexually. Boris is kinder and gentler to Melody. He actively tries to make it work.
They are as happy as two people can possibly be. But not for long…
Melody’s good looking meddling mother MARIETTA (PATRICIA CLARKSON) ends up on their doorstep. She has nowhere to go. Her husband has abandoned her for her best friend.
Her life is over.
Not having been informed of Melody’s marriage, Marietta assumes that she’s wed a struggling young rock star. When she meets Boris, she can not believe that her precious little girl is actually married to this horrible old man.
She takes an instant dislike to Boris. It makes no difference to her that Melody is completely content. Boris is not good enough and he is clearly not the type of husband that she had envisioned for her.
From that point on, she is on a mission to find someone that will sweep Melody off her feet and give her the life that she truly deserves.
That’s easily managed. Marietta decides that she loves New York. She also missed Melody too much to be separated from her again. She resolves to stay.
At a restaurant in Manhattan, an incredibly hot young English actor named RANDY LEE JAMES (HENRY CAVILL) notices Melody and falls madly in love with her.
Marietta instinctively feels that this is the one. She tells Randy all about Melody (including her marriage – which she considers a mere inconvenience) and gives him her blessing.
Randy pursues Melody nonstop. Her mother’s permission galvanizes him.
But Melody is secure in her relationship. She doesn’t believe in affairs. She loves Boris. Melody can’t deny that she finds Randy attractive. But she could never do anything to hurt her husband.
In the middle of all this, Melody’s father John comes up looking for Marietta. His affair with her best friend has hit the skids. He wants her back.
But Marietta is not only greatly fulfilled with her new lifestyle, she has absolutely no interest in being John’s wife any more.
John will not give up.
Boris is left in the centre of this overwhelmingly amorous activity – bewitched, bothered and bewildered on all sides.
WHATEVER WORKS possesses a tight hilarious screenplay where the laughs come thick and fast.
LARRY DAVID is absolutely brilliant. He’s pitch perfect and he never makes a false move.
EVAN RACHEL WOOD is a capable young actor of enormous talent. She does finely nuanced, risky work that walks the proverbial high wire. After establishing herself as a silly girl who doesn’t comprehend concepts like quantum physics or anything remotely complex, it was mindblowing to watch her pronounce words of many syllables with astonishing ease and explain her complicated existential theories.
The other performers are all fine. But Mr. David and Ms. Wood are definitely award worthy. They play off each other magnificently.
This is top tier WOODY ALLEN.
It’s the complete inverse of last year’s wondrously sensual VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, which was a sweet, light summer amusement that slowly descended into melancholy darkness. WHATEVER WORKS seems like it’s going to be gloomy and pessimistic – largely due to its miserable protagonist.
But it’s just the sunniest, loveliest, most life affirming, utterly romantic WOODY since HANNAH & HER SISTERS.
So Boris is actually wrong. It’s not only the feel good movie of the year, it’s one of the best films of 2009.
And on a warm summer night, you couldn’t possibly do any better than that…