Film Review: Whatever Works

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(Whatever Works, Woody Allen, USA, 2010, 92 minutes)

“I’m the only one that sees the whole picture. That’s what they mean by genius.”

Larry David, known for his hilarious improvisation sketches on the television series Curb Your Enthusiasm, plays the main character Boris Yellnikoff in Woody Allen’s new comedy Whatever Works: and David’s role as a sarcastic, ill-tempered, cynical man, without doubt works.

Boris Yellnikoff is a retired quantum physicist and claims to be a genius; he doesn’t fail to consistently mention the fact that he was almost a noble prize winner. When he introduces himself to the audience we are informed that his brilliance led him to attempt suicide as he realised life’s utter pointlessness. Boris has a permanent limp as a result of jumping out of his window. He decides to leave his wife and now spend most of his time in a New York cafe amplifying his pessimistic views on the world to his laid back friends who patiently listen. He also occasionally instructs and rebukes young children on how to play chess.tian xiao cheng

Boris returns home one day to find a twenty one year old naive girl called Melodie who is from the Deep South, she has run away from home and needs a place to stay. After Boris’s huge reluctance she ends up living with him and after a short while the mismatched couple become married. Their romance seems to avoid creating a creepy tone to the film, despite her being young enough to be his granddaughter. Woody Allen presents their sexual relationship as healthy due to his taste for young flesh. One could say he is being slightly defensive through the character of Boris? Evan Rachel Wood’s performance of the simple minded girl Melodie could have annoyed me for the duration of the film but she successful creates a likeable and admirable character.

For me and the few others in the cinema the film supplied a large amount of amusement, most laughs were initiated by Boris’s neat one liners and I think the film would certainly be labelled insufficient without the presence of Larry David.

Boris believes he is the only man in the world who truly understands the meaninglessness of our existence. “I’m a man with a huge world view” he tells us “I’m surrounded by microbes” and he certainly tells anyone he considers being a microbe. Larry David as Boris Yellnikoff impressively amuses the audience about how mind puzzling the concept of living and existing is. Whilst the film is a light hearted comedy very much aware of its own conventions it carries a rather warm philosophy; whatever makes you happy do it as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone – ‘Whatever Works’. Boris finds himself surrounded by characters that realise their life isn’t the way they want it to be and each make changes in their relationships and lifestyles to be happy. These sub plots lift the audience’s mood – despite realising life is rather pointless, we should make sure to be happy, and do what we want while we can. If a man as unenthusiastic as Boris Yellnikoff can change his perspective on life then most can.

Despite Woody Allen’s absence from the main role the film has a similar tone as his classic works like Annie Hall, maybe because it was written during the 70s.  The continuity is retained by the Allen using his typical formula of breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the audience. Larry David makes it clear he has been aware of us sat watching him during the film; “they’re watching…well, there were when we started. I don’t know how many are left” – and no one had. This conscious return to the typical formula makes the film timeless, despite a few contemporary references here and there about global warming or Barack Obama; it could have comfortably been released thirty years earlier. Despite certain principles being regurgitated and the film following a very predictable plot, if you are a fan of Woody Allen or Larry David, you’ll too think that Whatever Works does work and see that the infamous director has not lost his talent as a writer.

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