Whatever Works review - A Woody Allen comedy about an ageing New York intellectual lusting over a fresh-faced naïf young enough to be his granddaughter? Yeah, what’s new?
Just this: in Whatever Works, the Woody part isn’t played by Woody, but by Larry David. That’s right: it’s Perv Your Enthusiasm. That casting coup alone is enough to give Allen’s return to Manhattan after four European sojourns an acerbic new voice.
But it’s not sufficient to make his latest feature more than a familiar stroll down well-travelled streets, again begging the question whether the 74-year-old really has anything new to say.
A long opening monologue establishes Boris Yelnikoff (David) as an archetypal Woody stand-in: a morose quantum physicist who suffers regular panic attacks over his role in a meaningless, godless universe. An elitist snob, he spends his days teaching children chess and his nights contemplating another suicide attempt. (An unsuccessful first left him with a limp.)
Yet his bleak take on life becomes incrementally brighter when he meets Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), an impressionable Southern rube alone in the big city who asks to come in for a bite to eat and ends up being his doting wife.
In her wake comes her flighty mum (Patricia Clarkson) and anxious dad (Ed Begley Jr.), both of whom find new opportunities amidst Manhattan’s concrete canyons that bear out Boris’ “whatever works” philosophy on finding happiness.
Sadly, the film itself seems just as haphazard as that simplistic credo, lurching along in a manner that suggests this longgestating project never got beyond a half-baked first draft. David delivers his dry one-liners with aplomb, while Wood works wonders with a character whose sole attribute is to be monumentally thick. On this evidence, alas, that Woody return to form is as elusive as ever.
David’s kvetching persona lends a waspish bite to Woody’s latest that has been missing from his recent movies. Yet this remains a minor entry in the Allen canon, confirming suspicions that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a flash in the pan.