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Whatever Works

Many actors have played the Woody Allen role in Woody Allen movies besides Woody Allen, and with mixed success: for every John Cusack in ‘Bullets Over Broadway’, there’s a Kenneth Branagh in ‘Celebrity’. In Allen’s latest film, ‘Whatever Works’, Larry David assumes the role of the sharply observant, neurotically indignant, endearingly curmudgeonly nebbish, and as casting it’s a qualified success: David brings a spiky sense of mischief that sidesteps the self-pity to which the role might tend, but he also remains so aloof from the action that it can be hard to engage emotionally with the character’s predicament.

A former Columbia University physicist and Nobel near-miss, Boris Yelnikoff (David) leaps from a window in despair at his comfortably futile existence but survives (‘you can’t win ’em all’). Before long, he’s shacked up downtown with Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a ditzy waif from Mississippi whose artless wonder threatens to chip away at his ingrained misanthropy even as the caricatured types who arrive in her wake (including parents Ed Begley Jr and Patricia Clarkson) seem determined to confirm it.

‘Whatever Works’ is Allen’s first film set in his trademark location of Manhattan since 2004 and the tone is relaxed, even if Allen’s sense of the city, once so romantic, can feel as pantomimic as his takes on London and Barcelona. The broadness of the antic characters he sends to cross Boris’s path and the crises and reversals to which they fall subject are too exaggerated to engage as drama, and those who are uncomfortable with Allen’s tendency to pair nubile girls with ageing men will find little relief. But for all its wobbles, ‘Whatever Works’ is rooted in an agreeable sensibility: life favours fate over luck more than we’d like to think, so grab whatever chances of happiness come your way.

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday June 25 2010
Duration: 92 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Woody Allen
Screenwriter: Woody Allen
Cast: Larry David
Evan Rachel Wood
Patricia Clarkson
Ed Begley Jr
Michael McKean