If you end up inclined toward a hunch that Woody Allen’s latest, Whatever Works, signals a return to classic vintage Woody, you’re more than right. A screenplay of his that was put aside while gathering mothballs in one of Woody’s closets for over thirty years, Whatever Works thankfully sidesteps the woefully depressed funny man’s nearly always artificially induced panderings to the Waspy upper crust in movies, as the raw unplugged, get-even with the cosmos Woody shines through instead.
Channeling Seinfeld’s Larry David as his perplexed alter ego this time around, Allen ventriloquizes David as Boris Yellnikoff in the movie, a suicidal physicist dropout grouchy codger with an acid tongue, who’s so utterly fed up with life and the humans inhabitating his surroundings, that he just about kicks down the fourth wall to wail about it, in no uncertain terms to audiences everywhere. The studios long irking Woody aren’t spared either, as Boris accuses the studio suits of sinister intelligence operations, ‘so some Hollywood idiot can buy a bigger swimming pool.’
Ranting on about his feelings concerning human existence and ‘a violent and indifferent universe,’ via an endlessly delirious swirl of hilariously droll one liners, Boris basically sums it all up in his proclamation, ‘All there is, is the wooden box, and then the next generation of idiots.’ Divorced from a yapping wealthy trophy spouse he characterizes as a ‘Venus flytrap’ and incapable of pulling off a successful suicide while whining over a mosquito bite he’s convinced is melanoma, Boris relocates to a Chinatown dump where he gets by teaching chess to kids he refers to not exactly endearingly, as ‘brainless inchworms.’
Though it seems that fate has something quite different in mind for the surly senior intellectual snob, when Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a homeless pigtailed ditzy redneck former cheerleader hottie street kid inexplicably latches on to him, and Boris seals their courtship by introducing her to a knish. Though red state/blue state antagonisms eventually boil over when Melody’s yokel parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) turn up and rebuke their child for taking up with an elderly loon and likely communist hermit.
Whatever Works just misses a perfect four star score by succumbing to the usual narrow scope Woody exhibits when it come to women, ranging from conniving to moronic. And while the reluctant protagonist’s designated honey here sorta undergoes an IQ upgrade courtesy of her learned geriatric flame, it’s less Pigmalion than macho piggery on display. And exposing yet again, Woody’s eternal dilemma in his movies of failing to ‘get’ women when not failing to just plain get them, seductively speaking.
Sony Pictures Classics
3 1/2 stars