Film Review: Whatever Works

2010 – 92mn – 12A

Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr, Henry Cavill.

Review by Walter Nichols

WITH his new film Whatever Works (although “new” isn’t exactly the right word, as the film came out a year ago in the US), Woody Allen proves, after the cracking Vicky Cristina Barcelona, that he still has great films in him. The premise is simple: typical angry New York Jew Boris Yelnikoff (Larry David), almost a Nobel winner, rants to anyone who will listen about the randomness and worthlessness of life. When a beautiful young Mississippi runaway (Evan Rachel Wood) approaches him looking for a place to stay, Boris is initially reluctant. But then he realizes that this is a very impressionable, attractive young person he can mould to match his own worldview. So he lets her in, and the unlikely pair find themselves falling for one another.

It’s a winter-spring romance bound to make cynics (who will remember that Allen, then 56, left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, then 22) uncomfortable. But the filmmaker bravely seems oblivious to any comparisons, and if you can forget them as well you’re in for a treat. Whatever Works is Woody Allen of old, in the mould of Manhattan or Annie Hall (if not as great as either). The characters are efficient mouthpieces for Allen’s own witty worldview, and there’s enough New York atmosphere to fill three of another filmmaker’s movies. Best of all, it’s short, light, and unassuming, almost like a short story – there to entertain, play around with an idea, and then leave you to enjoy the rest of your life.

As always in a Woody Allen film, the cast are excellent, especially Rachel Wood, who does Southern ditzy beautifully and really makes her character grow throughout the film; and Larry David, who makes “the Woody Allen part” fresh with his usual bile and grumpiness. The only letdown is Henry Cavill, bland and boring in a small but vital part.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars