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Old 10-09-2009, 12:58 PM
Woody Allen's Whatever Works

Whatever Works (2009)

Woody Allen has had an interesting string of recent projects. Some of these have worked like "Match Point," "Scoop" (though I think I was one of the few who actually liked it), and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Others have not been as good like "Cassandra's Dream" or his most recent project, "Whatever Works." Unfortunately, whatever works for Allen doesn't necessarily work for an audience.

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is a man with a very bleak and pessimistic view of the world who lives in New York City. He is supposedly a genius that was almost nominated for a Nobel Prize in quantum mechanics, but now spends his days lecturing his friends over coffee. One night, he comes home to find a young girl, Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), outside his house, who begs him for something to eat and eventually a place to stay. Reluctantly, he agrees, which leads to a special relationship between the two, and eventually marriage. This is a rather surprising development for a man who considers most people to be "inchworms" or "sub-mental baton twirlers."

We very quickly learn what kind of man Boris is form the very opening scene. He is discussing how he feels that religions are bankable ideas and how ridiculous it is that so many ideas are based off of the assumption that the human race is fundamentally decent and that given the chance to do good, they will take it. Perhaps it is this notion that allows him to let Melodie into his life, breaking through his rough front.

But here is where the movie starts to lose some believability. Not only does he let her into his life after proving that he has such a pessimistic view, but a month later, he marries her. On top of that, it didn't seem conceivable that Melodie would fall for a guy like this. This is not taking into account the chemistry of the actors, which was fine, but rather the way that he constantly insults her in just about every scene, even after they get married.

This actually leads to another point: the two main characters are not exactly likable, nor can we sympathize with them for the very reasons I stated above, Boris with his bleak views and insulting nature and Melodie willing to put up with everything he spews at her. It's not really necessary for us to like the characters, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Even the worst of villains sometimes becomes enjoyable. However, if we're not able to believe in or sympathize with their situation, it makes for a less than enjoyable experience.

Overall, the film lacks focus. We begin by meeting Boris, and not long after, Melodie. It starts out being about their relationship, but then, somewhere in the middle, Melodie's mother, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), is thrown into the mix and we get a little random interlude about her becoming a photographer and becoming involved with one of Boris's friends. Marietta tries to get Melodie involved with a man, Randy (Henry Cavill), who she thinks is more appropriate for her.

The third act of the film involves Melodie's father showing up and going through his own little transformation, just like Melodie and her mother changed after arriving in the city. However, while the first two characters' changes felt more natural, Melodie's father's change feels completely random. The whole scene where he has this revelation feels forced, plus it's one you can see coming from a mile away.

The ending itself wraps up too conveniently with everyone paired up with a partner (or partners). It comes down to a conclusion that we know has to happen, not only because of Boris's philosophy or "whatever works" to bring you the slightest joy you can get out of life, but because of the audience's realization of the absurdity of Boris's and Melodie's relationship. I'm not saying it's a bad ending, just a far-too predictable one.

Allen presents some interesting ideas in here. Some of the arguments made by Boris are actually intriguing. There are some fascinating moments where he actually turns to the audience and speaks directly to us as a kind of aside, or a quick council session if you will. Throughout the film, he has tried to make it clear that he is a very intelligent person with an "interesting" point of view. By the end, we're unsure as to what Boris's state of mind is. If he believes that love can fall from the sky, what next? 2.5/4 stars.
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