Whatever Works Review
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Each summer, some of the biggest names in Hollywood duke it out for the highest box-office returns in the annual Battle of the Big-Budget Blockbusters. But leave it to 73-year-old filmmaking veteran Woody Allen to release a movie that once again shows that you don’t need fancy effects or big budgets or big-name Hollywood superstars to make an entertaining film. Just keep doing Whatever Works.

Allen’s latest stars Larry David as Boris Yellnikoff, a cranky old New Yorker who wholeheartedly believes that he’s intellectually superior to just about everyone else on the planet. He finds fault in everyone and everything—and he hurls insults and spouts cynical observations at anyone who will listen.

One night, a pretty young runaway named Melodie St. Ann Celestine (played by a perky and nearly unrecognizable Evan Rachel Wood) shows up at Boris’s door, asking for help. Boris begrudgingly takes her in, and the two strike up an odd friendship, which only continues to blossom as Melodie adopts Boris’s cynical outlook on life. And their arrangement works pretty well, too—until Melodie’s strict Southern mother (Patricia Clarkson) shows up at their door.

After traveling across the pond for his last few films, Allen returns home to his beloved Big Apple for this quirky comedy about love and pessimism. In a way, it’s classic Woody Allen: the griping, the complaining, the oddball characters in unlikely situations. But, this time around, those oddball characters (and the actors who play them) make Whatever Works much bolder—and even more accessible—than you might expect.

Boris, for instance, may be curmudgeonly, but he’s lovably curmudgeonly. He’s loud, he’s obnoxious, and he’s excessively pessimistic, but you can’t help but love him anyway. And that’s due, in no small part, to David. Allen himself would have played the part as a timidly miserable little man, quietly grumbling to himself about everyone else’s faults. It’s his schtick—and his fans wouldn’t want it any other way—but sometimes it’s just a bit…wimpy. David’s Boris, on the other hand, is bold and brash and unapologetically aggravated. He’s convinced that he’s surrounded by brainless earthworms, and he complains about them with gleeful exuberance. In fact, the more he complains, the happier it seems to make him. He’ll make you cringe, but he’ll also make you laugh until it hurts.

Wood’s Melodie, meanwhile, is sweet and ditsy and naïve. She’s Boris’s absolute opposite—and she’s a refreshingly dim change of pace from his constant griping and complaining. It’s an unusual role for the edgy actress—and it’s understandably not her best performance—but she seems to be enjoying herself, and that makes her fun to watch.

Whatever Works isn’t a big-budget blockbuster. There aren’t any fancy effects, and the acting isn’t always top-notch. But it’s a simple little comedy that’s simply entertaining.

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