The problem with writer\director Woody Allen’s new film lies within the title. Whatever Works seems to be the theory behind this bland, and wildly unfocused new comedy from one of the greatest filmmakers ever to work in the industry. Allen just throws in elements from his past films, in the hopes that whatever he throws in, well, works. The 1970s and early 1980s were a time of creative genius for Allen, whose films like Annie Hall and Manhattan will forever be considered some of the finest cinema, but as the years progressed, Allen’s work became hit or miss with critics and audiences alike. As much as it pains me to say it, Whatever Works is a miss.
Allen is living vicariously through Larry David, who I hoped would be a welcomed new member of Allen’s team. Alas, David delivers a boring performance in an unlikable and boring role. Just because David’s character, Boris is a cantankerous older gentleman with a limp doesn’t mean we can’t like him. Think of Melvin Udall, Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets. He was one of the most unpleasant people to spend over two hours with, but would anyone really say they hate Melvin Udall?
The film begins with Boris and his friends sitting around and talking about whatever the topic of the moment maybe, when Boris suddenly shifts into an aside and sets up the story. He informs us that he is indeed an unlikable man. Even though we are warned from the beginning does not ease the fact that hearing the things that come out of his mouth are just plain unpleasant.
Boris wants nothing to do with anyone and wishes to live his life alone. That is disrupted when Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) appears at his doorstep. Melodie ran away from home and is looking for food and a place to stay just for a couple of nights, and Boris hesitantly and unpleasantly agrees that she can stay with him. Melodie ends up overstaying her welcome and ultimately and attraction to Boris blossoms. The two get married and spend a year or so together as husband and wife. Their married life is disrupted when Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), Melodie’s mother, appears at their doorstep hoping to bring her daughter back. Instead, she ends up forming a new life of her own in New York City.
So much in Whatever Works truly does not work. The intermittent asides by Boris are often out of place and distracting, and are nothing but a random rant about how much he dislikes something. None of the performances in the film are convincing, and everyone seems to sleepwalk their way through the material that Allen has provided. There are different plot twists and turns that don’t serve any purpose the film, but Allen just hoped that his material that worked in the past would work one last time.
After a wonderful European excursion out of Manhattan (Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Christina Barcelona), Allen returns to his native city with a film that will disappoint any true Allen fans such as myself. Does the film offer some laughs? Yes, I would say there are about a handful, but over the course of the 92 minute film, the laughs are too far and few between to even be rendered memorable.
I wanted to be a bit more positive in my review of Whatever Works. I feel as if I am channeling Boris through my writing, but, this is just not one of Woody Allen’s strongest efforts and will be remembered with films like Hollywood Ending or Anything Else, if remembered at all.
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Larry David, Patricia Clarkson, Evan Rachel Wood
Rated: PG-13 (sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material)
Rating (out of 10): 5\10