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
The role of Boris Yellnikoff was original written for Zero Mostel. After Mostel's death in 1977, Woody Allen set the screenplay aside. However, with a potential actor's strike during 2008-9, Allen chose this old screenplay to be his next film. Furthermore Zero Mostel and Larry David both played the role of Max Bialistock. Mostel in the original Producers and David in the play within a show representing the main story arc from season 4 of Curb your Enthusiasm. See more »
Melody says she is from Mississippi and that her parents moved there from Louisiana. She also refers to living in Plaquemines County. There is no Plaquemines County is Mississippi. In Louisiana, where there are parishes instead of counties, there is a Plaquemines Parish. 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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When Woody Allen's films are released in the UK I usually blink and miss them. I happened to be in France this week so I was able to catch Whatever Works which is having its first general release in that most Woody-friendly of countries.
In Whatever Works, Larry David plays Boris Yellnikoff, Woody Allen's most unsympathetic character yet. He is even bleaker than Harry Block in Deconstructing Harry, this is despite the fact that the screenplay was apparently written in 1977 during what some people refer to as Woody's funny period. Woody usually gets away with his portrayals of nihilistic characters because of his diffident manner. Larry David, on the other hand, plays what is recognizably an Allen character but in a very aggressive manner, direct to camera. I do sympathise with Allen's world view that life is meaningless, arbitrary, painful and followed by oblivion, but, even for a sceptic like me, David's delivery is a little too blunt. To make matters worse, he is an arrogant misanthrope who regards himself as a genius and everyone else as inch-worms and cretins. He even verbally and physically abuses the small children who he is supposed to be coaching in chess.
By chance, Boris shacks up with a naïve Mississipean runaway, Melodie, charmingly played by Evan Rachel Wood. In one of many implausible plot devices she just turns up on Boris's doorstep and he takes her in. Things start to look unpleasantly like an old man's fantasy with the 60-something Boris and the 20-something Melodie although, fortunately, Allen spares us the bedroom details. We are in familiar Allen territory here with an older man having a Svengali-like influence on a younger woman. Then, suddenly, in the film's best scene, Melodie shows that she has completely adapted Boris's attitudes and beliefs, expressing contempt for her young friends' optimism and cheerfulness.
Things improve greatly in the second half of the film as the action becomes more farcical. First Melodie's mother arrives on their doorstep, closely followed by her father. Both are rapidly seduced by New York life and renounce their Southern fundamentalism for exciting new lifestyles and sexual orientations. Melodie's mother, Marietta, mischievously played by Patricia Clarkson, becomes a famous photographer on the strength of some snaps she has taken with a cheap camera. The plotting is quite perfunctory here but it is so funny that the viewer is carried along with the fantasy. And, of course, it is a fantasy that the vast majority of Americans who believe in Heaven and Hell can just have Allen's doctrine of despair explained to them and reject their value systems instantly.
The film ends on a note of euphoria and one can see that the whole thing is a parable. All the characters seize their one bit of happiness, whatever works for them in a naughty world. I liked the way the mood of the film flips: it starts in despair but you leave the cinema with a broad smile and a warm glow.
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