A perfect blend of Woody Allen’s views on love and relationships and Larry David’s pessimism of life and the imbecilic, Whatever Works won’t appeal to those who can’t find humor in the morbid recesses and sarcastic ranting of these two comedians’ minds, but everyone else will revel in the darkly misanthropic philosophies. Though this perverse fable may wrap up a little too neatly for those less inclined to believe in optimism for such an ensemble of decadent misfits, viewers with the right amount of indifference towards decency won’t object, as long as they aren’t one of the mindless zombie masses so scathingly scolded in the cynical social commentary.
Attempting to impress his ideologies on religion, relationships, and the randomness (and worthlessness) of existence, lifelong New York resident Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) rants to anyone who will listen, including the audience. But when he begrudgingly allows naive Mississippi runaway Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) 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.
It may be written by Woody Allen, but it certainly feels like Larry David’s material. Regardless of who’s channeling who, the biting humor in the film is simply hilarious; it’s surprising how much fun can be had from watching a character who positively abhors life, people and interaction. Boris may not be relatable, but he’s wickedly sarcastic and intelligently despicable. The conclusion may be a bit too tidy to be interpreted as much more than a cynical comedy, but the supporting actors and clever dialogue creates a set of disillusioned protagonists that are easy to watch.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the odd-couple pairing of elderly Yellnikoff and the hopelessly naïve twenty-something Melodie. Extreme differences in age and social standings have been explored in Allen’s previous films, but both characters are so delightfully polar opposites that seeing them together is refreshing. They’re two runaways on a mission to fulfill the illusion of meaning, one a self-proclaimed genius, the other a foolish, feeble-minded cretin with a heart of gold. Add to that the nonstop sophomoric tirades on religion, sexuality, mortality, marriage, the presidency, racism, human existence, and chess, and you’ve got an overload of pessimistic insights posing as genius. It may not be a feel good movie, but it’s convincingly ridiculous and it absolutely works.
– The Massie Twins