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With: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean, Lyle Kanouse, Adam Brooks, Conleth Hill, Henry Cavill, John Gallagher Jr., Olek Krupa, Carolyn McCormick, Christopher Evan Welch, Jessica Hecht
Written by: Woody Allen
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material
Running Time: 92
Date: 04/22/2009

Whatever Works (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Feel-Bad Movie

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Casting the cynical miscreant Larry David in the new Woody Allen film sounds like a throwback to Allen's nastier films of the late 1990s. But surprisingly, David works like a louder, even more hopelessly neurotic version of the beloved Allen character of the 1970s, and despite the negative tenor of the dialogue, the film itself has a sweet quality. And indeed, the new film Whatever Works echoes nothing less than Manhattan (1979), with its mismatched, but truly adoring relationship between an uptight forty-something and a pretty teenager. Best of all, Allen manages to sidestep the usual Hollywood convention of "redeeming" his self-serving lead. David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a curmudgeonly genius who was once up for a Nobel prize and now teaches chess to "cretins" and "inchworms." He walks with a lurching limp, the result of a failed suicide. He occasionally gets together with friends to discuss the meaninglessness of the world. One night a runaway waif, Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood, using a darling little Mississippi accent) appears on his doorstep, begging for scraps of food. Before long, she's living with him and they form an odd but touching relationship, in which he teaches her things like despair and decay and she listens eagerly. Things get a little wacky when Melodie's mother (Patricia Clarkson) and father (Ed Begley Jr.) turn up; they're separated, but both religious gun nuts, and New York manages to bring out untapped sides of their personalities. Then Melodie has a crisis of conscience when she meets a handsome actor. It's a minor Allen, especially coming after his masterpiece Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the results are mixed. But when David is in the driver's seat, Whatever Works is a delightful blend of bitter and sweet.

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