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Whatever Works
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Whatever Works – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

After the failure of his career, his marriage, and his suicide attempt, Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David), a former professor in physics and self-proclaimed genius, spends his days insulting unfortunate kids, whom he teaches chess, and pontificating about the meaninglessness of life and the malevolence of the human race.

One night, he finds a runaway girl from Mississippi, Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) at the footsteps of his derelict Chinatown apartment. She begs him to let her stay with him until she finds a place of her own. He reluctantly agrees, but she never leaves. In spite of Boris’s unremitting insults, Melody grows fond of him, and a bizarre relationship evolves, which eventually leads to a happy marriage.

A year later, Melody’s strait-laced mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), shows up at their doorsteps and faints when she is introduced to her eccentric, limping son-in-law, who is decades older than her. Marietta tries to persuade Melody to leave Boris, but in vain; Melody is proud to be married to a genius.

Meanwhile, Marietta starts dating Boris’s friend, Leo Brockman (Conleth Hill), who introduces her to his gallery-owner friend, Al Morgenstern (Olek Krupa). Eventually, she settles into a ménage a trios with the two and turns into a hippy artist.

Soon Melody’s a man-of-God father, John (Ed Begley, Jr.), arrives with a determination to bring his wife and daughter back home. He is shocked to find his daughter with a man older than himself and his wife in a relationship with two men. As he tries to drink away his tragedy in a bar, he meets another heart-broken gay man, Howard Cummings (Christopher Evan Welch), who helps him to discover the homosexual genie that has been lurking inside him since childhood. Instant love sparks between the two men!

Melody, in the meantime, finds love with a handsome young man, Randy Lee James (Henry Cavill). Boris, had enough, jumps out of the window and falls over another woman, Helena (Jessica Hect), whom he ends up dating.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This is another mad comedy from Woody Allen, filled with odd, eccentric and mismatched characters, who go through turbulent emotional and intellectual journeys. It’s hard to believe that any of them would exist anywhere else other than Woody Allen’s head. And if you like Woody Allen then you will like his characters. They are hilariously funny and mentally messed-up.

Boris is a pessimist misanthropic atheist, who believes that the planet is going to explode, humans are evil warms, and everybody around him is an imbecile. Melody is a dumb girl from Mississippi with low self esteem, infatuated with Boris who constantly hurls insults at her. And Melody’s parents are sexually repressed Catholics who incredulously leap from Mississippi’s virtuous existence into New York’s sin city without much hesitation. Luck, not God, ultimately brings love and happiness to these tormented souls.

Larry David gives an impressive performance as he melts into the character of the mad professor (or the character of Woody Allen). Indeed, he conjures up the image of old-days Woody Allen as he goes on a tirade about God, religion and science. Those themes are often repeated in Allen’s movies, and hence come across as mundane or clichéd. It’s evident, as we learned in the past, that Allen despises religion and sees it as a malady. In fact, he seems to abhor all forms of conformity and societal rules.

The movie feels more like theatre, with long shots, static setups and excessive verbiage. Even Chinatown looks like a backdrop of a theatre stage. But like in many of Allen’s movies, the performances of his cast are riveting and thoroughly entertaining. Evan Rachel Wood, who has so far played serious and smart characters, does a brilliant job as a dumb girl. And Patricia Clarkson convincingly smoulders into her newly-born hippy artist character.

If you liked Woody Allen’s old verbal and silly movies and you don’t mind the implausibility of the story, then you will like this one, otherwise you might just get irked by it.

Opens Nationwide 25th June 2010

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