Woody Allen’s return to New York after a five-year stint in Europe (his last here was 2004’s Melinda and Melinda) has been the subject of much apprehension between the critics. There is a circle out there that legitimately believes his success during his last four films was brought about by the European air. This is nonsense because Allen was on a hot streak long before Europe – Match Point and Scoop were only marginally good. Well thankfully Whatever Works is superb in a playful yet mildly angry way.
Allen stand in Boris (Larry David) breaks down the 4th wall in the first scene and then spends time trying to convince his fellow on screen characters that an audience is watching them. It all comes off as rather odd, but it allows the viewer to adjust to the idea that they are in for something a little less bleak than say Cassandra’s Dream. From there Boris breaks into a long monologue, belly aching about everything on Earth that pisses him off. His mouth as a vile spiller of truth is something that persists until the end credits. It is removed from the quipping we are used to and feels as though George Carlin has somehow been channeled into the middle of a Woody Allen film. It adds edge to the experience and is worth the price of admission.
The story involves Boris finding a vagrant named Melodie on his front porch. Melodie is played by the beautiful Evan Rachel Wood, who despite a questionable Southern accent is always a welcome presence. Boris hates her because he views her as stupid (she is), but by the end his need to insult her intelligence right to her face is quite partied out. Of course, her warm soul thaws his black heart and soon they are living out some sort of bohemian communal bliss. But since that wouldn’t be much of a movie, Melodie’s mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) shows up as the antithesis to Boris – a family values woman who gets turned out looking at Donald Trump’s wax statue.
One thing leads to another and soon Marietta has hatched a master plan to have some English pretty boy seduce Melodie away from Boris. Then Marietta falls in love with two men, moves in with them both and becomes a pornographic artist. And just for good measure Marietta’s ex-husband shows up with dreams of winning back his good Christian wife. It isn’t hard to see where Allen’s sympathies lie. Sure, Boris is sort of vilified for being a misanthrope. But in all other aspects of the film, so-called backward thinking (Christianity, ignorance, repression) falls by the wayside to make way for freedom (art, sexual expression).
What all of these head shaking plot twists add up to is a larger philosophy that Allen wants to spoon feed us, purporting that most of our life is dictated by chance. Here was Boris, an extreme isolationist who wanted to avoid any and all pitfalls brought about by the unpredictability of human interaction, only to have a parade of characters prance through his front door. He marries an idiot (a Southern one at that), ends up happy and then watches as his bride’s Bible thumping/polygamist mother destroys their union. The fun Allen has while also urging the audience to accept randomness into their hearts makes for a fun time. It’s no "Crimes and Misdemeanors," but it does put a cherry on top of another crazily successful decade for him.
Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Conleth Hill, Michael McKean
Director: Woody Allen
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics