A director is forced to work with his ex-wife, who left him for the boss of the studio bankrolling his new film. But the night before the first day of shooting, he develops a case of psychosomatic blindness.
Attempting to impress his ideologies on religion, relationships, and the randomness (and worthlessness) of existence, lifelong New York resident Boris Yellnikoff rants to anyone who will listen, including the audience. But when he begrudgingly allows naive Mississippi runaway Melodie St. Ann Celestine to live in his apartment, his reclusive rages give way to an unlikely friendship and Boris begins to mold the impressionable young girl's worldly views to match his own. When it comes to love, "whatever works" is his motto, but his already perplexed life complicates itself further when Melodie's parents eventually track her down. Written by
The Massie Twins
Like Allen's later film "Blue Jasmine," this film takes several cues from Tennessee Williams's Streetcar Named Desire. Marietta, a Southern woman visiting the big city, echoes Blanche DuBois in several ways, including being horrified at the apartment Melodie lives in and being coy about her drinking. At least one of her lines ("You are not the gentleman I was expecting") is a direct homage to "Streetcar." See more »
When Melodie says "He doesn't have a lot of patience for US inchworms.", Boris incorrectly corrects her and says "WE inchworms". Boris is supposed to be a genius, but Melodie was actually correct. See more »
That's not what I'm saying, imbecile. You guys completely misrepresent my ideas, why would I even want to talk with those idiots.
Just calm down.
That's not true, Boris.
No, don't tell me to calm down, I am calm. Just stop.
Don't jump on us just because we don't understand what you're saying.
I didn't jump on you. It's not the idea behind Christianity I'm faulting, or Judaism, or any religion. It's the professionals who've made it into corporate business. There's big money in the ...
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If ever a movie could be described as an allegorical rendition of a director's life, Whatever Works just might top the list.
Marking Woody Allen's return to his native New York City after a four picture hiatus in Europe, the movie tells the story of Boris Yellnikoff, played by Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), the only actor working in Hollywood today who most closely approximates Allen himself in look, mannerisms, and philosophical outlook. Afflicted by numerous neuroses, Boris has become the ultimate pessimist, seeing life as one long water slide ride into an eventual cesspool. So bleak is his outlook that he becomes convinced that suicide is the only option, but even that cheap out fails him.
Fed up with the world, Boris turns his back on much that society has to offer, instead spending his days teaching chess to kids while publicly humiliating them at every opportunity. Yes, Boris isn't a happy camper, and takes pride in it. The fact that he's managed to maintain a core of four friends is a miracle in and of itself.
Then one day fate causes him to cross paths with Melodie St. Ann Celestine (played by the delightful Evan Rachel Wood), a country bumpkin runaway from the backwoods of Louisiana. She is Jethro Bodine to Yellnikoff's Einstein. A complete intellectual and generational opposite. Love at first sight it isn't, but given the axiom that opposites attract, Boris soon finds himself falling for the much younger siren (cue the Allen parallels).
While some critics have complained that much of the dialog comes across as stilted and unnatural (which it does), Whatever Works unravels more like a stage play than real life, which, I think, is how Allen meant it. As writer and director, he has lots to say here and refuses to allow such trivialities as natural delivery stand in the way. This isn't to say that the performances are wooden, but rather that nobody talks like Yelnikoff in real life, and I'm good with that. What's important here are the ideas, constructs and situations that Allen infuses in his characters.
Interestingly, while much of the movie's theme focuses on the serendipity of life, and thumbs its nose at the divine, the film can easily be viewed from both the atheistic and spiritual viewpoint, particularly given how events unfold in a seemingly manipulated manner.
While not Allen's finest work, Whatever Works will appeal to those who enjoy a light romantic comedy, particularly one that provokes a few sparks from our grey matter, while delivering its laughs.
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