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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Whatever Works (2009)

I read all the bad reviews when Woody Allen’s latest film was released this past summer.  But I was dubious.  Larry David starring in a Woody Allen film seemed like a genius idea, to me.  How could a combination of those two neurotic, grumpy Jewish comedians not yield something at least remotely interesting?

Well, go rent Whatever Works and find out.

Or better yet, trust me, DON’T.

Whatever Works is a catastrophe of epic proportions and one of the worst films I have seen in a long, long time.  After 30-40 minutes of the film had elapsed, I was already supremely bored, and only sheer force of will (and the hope — ultimately dashed — that maybe something funny was just around the corner) allowed me to finish the film.  It is certainly one of the worst Woody Allen films I have ever seen.  (Celebrity has always been, in my mind, Woody’s worst film — though now it has strong competition.)

Larry David plays Boris Yelnikoff (as Woody Allen a character name as you’ll ever find), a man described as a genius physicist but who we mainly see as an irritated complainer hanging out in his bathrobe in and around Grennich Village.  Unhappy in life and love and convinced (as so many Woody Allen protagonists are) that life is meaningless and that he is surrounded by an unending parade of idiots and incompetents, Boris spends much of the film vacillating between miserable and merely unhappy.

One night a beautiful homeless Southern girl, Melody (played by Evan Rachel Wood), follows Boris home.  Despite her stunning beauty, Boris is entirely uninterested in her (and indeed spends much of his time berating her for her stupidity).  He does, though, take some pity on her and allows her to stay with him in his apartment.  Then, in one of the most staggering and unconvincing plot twists I have ever seen in a movie (and I have seen a lot of movies with space aliens and time travel), Melody falls in love with Boris and the two get married.

The above paragraph summarizes the entire first half of the film, all of which seems to be nothing more then a lengthy set-up for what was, I supposed, intended to be a hilarious comedy of culture-shock when Melody’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) and, later, her father (Ed Begley Jr.) show up in New York looking for her.  While the movie does, briefly come to something-approaching-life for a few minutes following Ed Begley Jr.’s introduction into the film (at about the one hour mark), it’s far-too-little and far-too-late.

Woody Allen’s movies have often been characterized by some condescension to non-Manhattenites, but Whatever Works is overflowing with it, and this left a bad taste in my mouth.  Melody is depicted, from start-to-finish, as an empty-headed dunderhead.  When we first meet her she is unable to understand that Boris is joking when he sarcastically comments that he used to play for the Yankees, and when we leave her at the end of the film she has to be told “I’ll explain it to you later” about what has just gone down.  Her mother is predictably disdainful of Boris when she arrives in the city, but she is quickly exposed as a hypocrite as, after just a few days in Manhattan, she transforms into a bohemian artist taking photographs of nudes and living with two men.  Her father is similarly depicted as foolishly hypocritical, as the stuck-up Southern man quickly realizes that he is, in fact, a homosexual mere days after he arrives in the Big Apple.  And so on and so forth, ad ridiculous infinitum.  It’s one thing to find comedy in the failings of others, but I feel Mr. Allen looking down his nose at every single character, other than Boris, presented in the film.  Not a one of them is anything approaching a fully realized, human character.

If any of this was even remotely funny I might excuse these flaws, but it’s not and I don’t.  Larry David tries his best, but he is stranded by the material (as are all the other fine actors).  What a waste.

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