Whatever Works

  • Year:2009
  • Rating:M
  • Director:Woody Allen
  • Cast:Adam Brooks, Larry David, Lyle Kanouse, Michael McKean
  • Release Date:October 15, 2009
  • Distributor:Hopscotch
  • Running time:88 minutes
  • Film Worth:$6.00
  • FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Woody Allen’s supposedly undiscovered masterpiece is a complete failure, featuring a one-note performance from the usually hilarious Larry David.


At the centre of the story is Boris Yellnikov (played by Larry David of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame, in his first main film role), a kvetching physicist-turned-chess coach who is prone to jumping out of windows in fits of despair. As he explains to us in a rather clunky opening monologue straight to camera, he divorced his wife, attempted suicide, and moved from the east side of Manhattan to much less salubrious digs in Chinatown, which is where he now spends his time teaching kids, arguing with his friends, and generally raging against society's collective misconception of its own worth.

Into Boris' joyless world bounds who else but a sweet, lithe and utterly stupid young woman. Melody St. Ann Celestine (played with impressive zeal by Evan Rachel Wood) is a teenage beauty queen from the south who's run away from home and is sleeping on Boris' fire escape. Despite Boris' protestations, Melody secures a place on his couch for a night, which then turns into several weeks. The pair begins an unlikely mentorship, with Boris grooming Melody in his misanthropic philosophy, and the eager student digesting his ideas with surprising alacrity.

While the idea of a crotchety, anxious man bewitching a nubile teenager is anything but savoury, this is actually the least of the film's problems. Woody Allen understands that this is a preposterous arrangement, and is constantly reminding us by dressing Melody in ponytails, pastel colours and knee-high socks, while keeping Boris in singlets and shorts, exposing his scrawny, ageing body. He also uses their lack of compatibility to eke out a few genuinely funny, touching moments, like when Melody calms Boris down from a panic attack by making him watch a late-night Fred Astaire film.

The bigger problem is with Boris himself, and Larry David's one-note performance. While Allen has made this protagonist actually able to express his anger, it swamps the character's dialogue (how many times can you find the musty insults "inchworm", "sub-mental cretin" and "mindless zombie" funny?). And as David only seems to act in abrasive mode, Boris is rendered totally unlikeable.

Strangely, Boris practically falls out of the film for almost forty minutes as we follow other subplots. When Woody Allen does bring him back, it's to fashion a saccharine-sweet ending which has everyone happy with their lot and Boris sermonising to the audience on the importance of finding whatever happiness you can in this world, while also being tolerant of other people's choices. Needless to say, it doesn't work. None of it does.

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