Rated PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material, 90 minutes
Delightful, witty "Whatever Works" one of Woody's better efforts
Whether you like him or not, Woody Allen has certainly left his iconic mark on movies. Year after year, the prolific, veteran filmmaker continues to write, direct and sometimes star in movies, regardless of how they do at the box-office or how they're received critically. Last summer, he released "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (which was one of his most successful financially) that won an Academy Award for Penelope Cruz. This summer, it's the refreshingly witty yet overly familiar "Whatever Works," which teams him with "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Larry David. Also dark at times, "Whatever Works" doesn't always work perfectly, but it's sublimely performed by an inspired cast that Allen has once again assembled and should garner awards favor for two more actresses in the film.
Former Columbia Professor, self-proclaimed genius and contemporary New York City cynic Boris Yellnikoff (David) has survived a failed marriage, career and even a suicide attempt. Boris spends his days earning a meager living by instructing - or mostly insulting - young kids on how to play chess. His pessimistic tirades on everything hasn't exactly endeared him to many, but he likes it that way. He meets and helps a homeless girl named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a Southern girl who has big aspirations of making it in the big city. He relentessly insults Melody but the two become an item, until Melody's parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) show up and unexpectedly change themselves and everyone around them.
"Whatever Works" is a satisfying, dark and offbeat comedy but is Woody's better efforts of late (and better than some of his London-themed movies). Allen wrote the screenplay back in the '70's for Zero Mostel, but when Mostel died he put it on the backshelf for awhile. Ironically, it's the dusty script that could use a little work, though his direction is as solid as ever. David, a "Seinfeld" writer who became a star in his own right with "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is inspired casting, whose sharp, biting wit can enable the audience to love and hate him at the same time. His insults are mean-spirited and tasteless at times but also the more entertaining parts of the film (one bit that doesn't work: talking directly to the audience/camera).
Woody's New York-themed multiple-love-triangle story treads familiar ground and doesn't entirely work - the whole much younger woman with much older man angle - as eerily biographical as it is - is altogether creepy at times, but the talented, ecclectic cast make it work, particularly Wood and Clarkson, as mother-daughter whose lives change when they meet Boris. Both will likely garner Supporting Actress Oscar nominations for their work, especially Clarkson. Wood is exceptionally charming (but maybe a tad young for the role) as the dense Melody and has the movie in her hand until Clarkson shows up, who charms us more and steals the movie as Melody's delightful but sexually frustrated mother.
Allen's balancing of dark humor and lighter tones in "Whatever Works" is also a little uneven, with the amusing parts far more memorable, and the script works too hard to tie up loose ends in its predictable but amusing last act. Overall, one of Woody's better comedies in recent years and should gain him more favor.