Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood
A month before Toy Story 3 and cinema's other favourite Woody returns - a momentous occasion for his fans, craving that elusive return to form, but a minor irrelevance for those whose tastes turn more towards Russell Brand. Whatever Works sees another ageing male hook up with a fledgling female, dispensing acerbic wisdom about the hopelessness of existence. Dated, much?
It's not that Woody has said it all before, it's that he's said it better, and funnier. Nowadays, the comic genius coasts along at a moderate level, never quite recapturing his former glory. He's like the Jewish version of Tim Henman. If Tim Henman had made Annie Hall.
Still, if a film a year is what you get to show for it, Whatever Works isn't a bad credo for life. It works very well for Boris (David). He's divorced, sure, and once jumped out a window to commit suicide, but he's happy in his grumpy lifestyle. Until Melody (Rachel Wood) drops onto his doorstep, desperate for money and food having run away from her right-wing Christian home. Naturally, Boris says no, before relenting and forming an odd-couple relationship with the beautiful girl. Over time, it improbably blossoms into a contented marriage: she, the doting and simple wife, he, the intellectual husband agreeing to tolerate her sub-mental ignorance.
Of course, that kind of partnership needs a bit of work, and Woody's lead couple are prepared to put in the effort. As the dumb but kind-hearted Melody, Evan Rachel Wood is a likeable presence, balancing out Boris's failed physicist with a youthful smile. Larry David, meanwhile, limps around the streets of New York, every bit the surrogate Woody Allen. Espousing his "whatever works" philosophy in between yelling judgemental insults, David relishes his lines like it was still Allen's 1970 heyday.
That's mostly because Whatever Works was written then, originally intended for Zero Mostel. But, a quick touch up here and there, and the slightly worn but still funny screenplay is a perfect fit for the Curb Your Enthusiasm star. He's incredulous and bitter, referring to everyone as morons, cretins, or inchworms. And that alone nearly always gets a laugh. Then, when Melody's mother and absconding father (Ed Begley Jr) arrive on the scene, the laughter count jumps another notch higher. It's never on a par with Woody's old-school gag count, and the characters and pacing are completely haphazard, but Whatever Works is a pleasant change of pace to today's gross-out humour, and a fun treat for Allen fans.
Far from ground-breaking, but Whatever Works is an enjoyable diversion from the empty void of meaning that is life. It's either that or jump out a window.