"The world is terrible, people are terrible, but I am going to be happy."

Whatever Works

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Woody Allen soars with “Whatever Works.” He has acquired that marvelous gift bestowed only by age that allows artists of all kinds to float untethered in their creativity. It looks from here as if Allen has been cut loose from his own imbroglios and demons, that he is free to be exactly who he wants to be. After delighting us with the raw clay and young cynicism of his early films, he tripped into a midlife quality collapse. Now, in this third of his comeback hits, he is back, hilariously, spouting the fine tuned philosophy of a confirmed, but now enlightened, pessimist. And then he adds, “The world is terrible, people are terrible – but I am going to be happy.”

            Through the character of Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David), Allen spews forth his life lessons – “We are stupid, greedy, selfish, shortsighted worms…we are a failed species.” What good is a life full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘if onlys,’ of fruits and vegetables, and colonoscopies when you die anyway? We are a shameful, violent, sophomoric nation.” There it is – all in one grand wrap-up.

            Boris once lived on Beekman Place with his beautiful, smart wife Jessica (Carolyn McCormick) while teaching string theory (string theory!) at Columbia. All this success is too much of burden for “a Nobel level thinker,” so he divorces Jessica and lives alone now in a slovenly apartment elsewhere and hangs out with his buddies Brockman (Conleth Hill) and Ed (Lyle Kanouse) while teaching chess occasionally in Washington Square to kids who stay until he has shredded their egos.

            And then….The flake of all time follows him home. Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), unmoored in both personality and gesture, has arrived from the deep south without plans, money, or a place to stay. Ms. Wood’s grea t gift to this role is Melodie’s complete unawareness of anything around her. She is unconscious. Of the moment she lost her virginity, “It was just a nice moment behind the tent at the fish fry.” She tends to Boris (“She sits up with me at the hospital when I think my mosquito bite is melanoma.”) They spend Friday nights drinking beer at The Anal Sphincter.

            And then…..Melodie’s mother arrives. The wonderful Patricia Clarkson takes her own character from the abandoned, always-on-the-prowl small town southern flirt to contemporary art photographer at the center of New York’s gallery world. And then…..Melodie’s father, the deserter, arrives. Southern conservative meets wild New York and concludes, “God is gay!”

            Something new has been added to Allen’s lifelong negativism: life is all about relationships so we better tend them. The relationships he and his buddies reach for and find are laced with humor and irony. This is a very funny movie whose small truths come wrapped in high slapstick. An inspired cast – with a special salute to Patricia Clarkson, Evan Rachel Wood, and Larry David - delivers the big lessons to waves of audience laughter: Whatever works, take it!

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