Whatever Works is a Woody Allen film starring creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David. Woody Allen’s films are off-beat on their own with genres ranging from bizarre romantic comedies to riveting thrillers. Whatever Works is a bittersweet romantic comedy of sorts… including: Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr. and Michael McKean. Larry David plays Boris Yellnikoff, an aspect of his obsessive and socially awkward Curb Your Enthusiasm character, which is ironically based on himself. He’s an intellectual (a genius if you asked him) and a Professor with delusions of grandeur to those that know him, who was almost nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work in quantum physics.
Boris takes pity on Melodie (Wood), a young runaway from the South, whose gullible innocence and homegrown honesty is a welcome change of pace to his ex-wife’s predatory esteem and academic prowess. She’s 21-years-old, in need of temporary accommodation and willing to learn and earn, despite the elderly professor’s rude and eccentric manner. Over a few days, the two begin to grow fond of each other with Boris's out-of-ten assessment of character and beauty on the rise and Melodie's maternal appreciation for the man’s need for TLC and intellectual stimulation kicking in.
Things take a turn for the worse, when Melodie's mother (Clarkson) arrives after a long search for her missing daughter, followed closely on the heels by Daddy (Begley). Allen’s Harold & Maude odd couple plot is suddenly reinvented as the many incantations of love take the stage, with a host of eccentric characters pushing-and-pulling the narrative along. Whatever Works is based on the principle that any relationship can work without a prescribed formula… as long as it works. Crude examples of man and livestock aside, Whatever Works is a witty, understated romantic comedy that woos the best of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Woody Allen.
Whatever Works starts with Larry David breaking the fourth wall, as he goes on to expound on the story behind his limp and his love life philosophy. An extended medium shot and speech of him addressing the audience lets us know this movie is going to be unconventional. North and South, Jewish and Christian, Man and Woman, Man and Man, Woman and Man and Man, Old and Young… almost every relationship breaks tradition in this “experimental” romantic comedy. He momentarily breaks the fourth wall throughout the film as he makes the odd self-reference and reinforces the story-telling device.
Whatever Works is not for everyone and is best suited to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm with David’s socially awkward sense of humour shining through, with Woody Allen reining him in behind camera. The two would probably self-combust if they had to share a scene, recalling classic duos like Matthau and Lemmon, and Allen doesn’t even take a cameo role. David begins as a shade of his callous Curb Your Enthusiasm character and slowly evolves into a less acerbic, more likable character… like Woody Allen actually.
This is an art film and strays away from Hollywood predictability, formula and conventional comedy with its cross-section of New York making Love, Actually look like a heart-shaped chocolate box. It’s rarely sentimental and uses its bipolar range of character performances to create dramatic tension with life’s unexpected narrative driving the story home to the tune of "Whatever Works". Its entertaining, engrossing and laugh-out-loud take on the mysteries of love challenges preconceptions and inherent prejudices. It may offend some viewers, but for maximum enjoyment, it all needs to be taken with a pinch of coarse dry salt. As they say… whatever works.
The bottom line: Bittersweet.