Published Jun 25, 2009So, Woody Allen has deputized Larry David has his latest on-screen stand-in. I can't imagine a more perfectly storm of grating neuroticism. Sure, the particular brand of Semitic rankle David has cultivated from Seinfeld through to Curb Your Enthusiasm is likely a more sincere approximation of Allen's own jittery idiosyncrasies than anything offered Allen's more recent proxies (John Cusack, Jason Biggs). But faithful adherence to Allen's trademark high-strung theatrics is hardly enough to sufficiently redress all the narrative, thematic and comedic rehash in Whatever Works.
David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a morose NYC physicist whose self-professed genius in the field of quantum mechanics and capacity to "see the big picture" imparts him with the ability to break the fourth wall and kvetch directly at the audience. Between bellyaching about the blemish that is humanity and eking out a living as a chess tutor (because smart people play chess, get it?), Boris happens across Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a runaway Mississippi pageant queen freshly pitched from the turnip truck.
Because Allen is nothing if not defiantly narcissistic, Melodie soon falls pigtails-over-bobby-socks for Boris (despite his insistence that she is a microbe, a cretin, an inchworm, etc.) and they mosey down to city hall to get hitched. They quickly establish a comfortable equilibrium, with Melodie cheerily suffering through basket case Boris's various compulsions, which is just as swiftly overturned when Melodie's Bible belting mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) shows up at the door, proving herself the proverbial spanner in the works.
While the slant is more cutesy than the high-points in Allen's bloated oeuvre, Whatever Works can't even tread water in the themes of happiness, regret, (in)compatibility and all that other human condition stuff that was finessed more fruitfully in films like Annie Hall or Manhattan. The tired lesson that there's no recipe for happiness, and that romance should be scammed at any opportunity, here insipidly manifests in a family of Pentecostal yokels (Rachel Wood, Clarkson, and the patriarch played by Ed Begley Jr.) who learn to arrest their long-repressed romantic, artist and homosexual, respectively. Only in New York, right? (Maple)