Movie Review: Whatever Works
Larry David Playing a Crotchety Misanthrope? Works for me.
I was immediately charmed by this new film from director Woody Allen. I have heard quite a bit of grumbling from Woody Allen purists that the movie just wasn’t on par with some of his better films. That may be true, but it is still a darn likable movie.
In a welcome change from typical Woody Allen movies, Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm) effortlessly slips into the shoes of the main character this time. In the first fifteen minutes I kept thinking to myself that Larry David does a better Woody Allen than Woody Allen does. He’s a skinny, neurotic, balding , Jewish intellectual, only with more onscreen charisma. He’s an absolute delight to watch in the opening monologue that sets up the movie.
Boris Yellnikoff (David) is a Nobel-nominated physicist who spews vitriol and is an all-around prick to everybody. His wife has just left him for understandable reasons. He tries to commit suicide, and fails, which makes him even more disagreeable. Dressed in plaid shorts and dark socks, he verbally abuses the children to whom he teaches chess, and hangs out with his aging liberal professor friends. He likes to talk about how smart he is, agreeing that he is brilliant “if an IQ of 200 is brilliant”. He refers to those people outside of his circle of academia as “inchworms” and “cretins”.
One day he encounters Melodie, a bedraggled runaway (Evan Rachel Wood) shivering in the rain. He allows her to come up to his apartment not out of compassion, but as a way to silence her annoying pleading. Melodie is of sunny disposition, ridiculously naive, and speaks with a grating southern twang. Despite all that, they become roommates. Melodie cheerfully takes whatever insults about her religion, education or looks Boris can hurl her way, all the while developing a schoolgirl crush on the old crab-ass.
The film veers off course during the second half, when Boris fades to the background and new characters are introduced. Patricia Clarkson shows up as Melodie’s mother, and Ed Begley Jr. as her father. In typical Allen fashion, surprising friendships and relationships develop out of the initial quagmire. Gradually, Boris realizes that it’s okay to grasp at happiness in our short lives.
In my book, Larry David is incapable of doing any wrong, but I still couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed him in this movie. Evan Rachel Wood does a nice job as well. Patricia Clarkson is hilarious as a prude bible beater who soon adapts a New Yorker bohemian lifestyle.
The screenplay for the movie was written almost thirty years ago, which is surprising because it could almost be biographical for Allen if it had not been written so long ago. Lovers of the snark such as myself will be captivated by the amazing dialogue Boris delivers. He truly is one of the most acerbic characters to ever be on film. The meaner Boris tries to be, the more endearing I find him.
Some critics have found the movie stale, but I found it really delightful. Lots of people think that a young woman falling for the likes of Woody Allen or Larry David is completely far-fetched, but in High School journalism class I had a framed Rolling Stone cover with Woody Allen on it on the wall behind my desk. Everyone thought I was a little strange to find such a man attractive, but hey “whatever works”.
Frothygirlz rating 8/10
*a must see if you are a big Larry David fan.