After fleeing to London and Barcelona for film financing, Woody Allen’s back in Manhattan where he belongs, reviving a screenplay he first wrote more than 30 years ago for Zero Mostel. After Mostel’s death, Allen shelved the script but decided to retool it specifically to fit the talents of Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”).
“I’m not a likeable guy…and this is not a feel-good movie,” misanthropic Boris Yellnikoff (David) confesses directly into the camera as the story begins. He’s a recently divorced, former physics professor who was once “almost nominated” for the Nobel Prize for Quantum Mechanics. Having miraculously survived a suicide leap from the luxurious uptown apartment belonging to his now-ex-wife (Carolyn McCormick), slovenly Boris lives in despair in a hovel near Chinatown, grudgingly teaching chess to “imbecilic” children and hanging out with his cronies (Michael McKean, Conleth Hill) who put up with his cantankerous pontifications.
One night, a hungry, rain-drenched, teenage runaway, Melody St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), seeks shelter in his dingy apartment. She’s escaping from Mississippi and the repressiveness of the Deep South. Admittedly dim-witted, this cheerful, dewy-eyed innocent insinuates herself into Boris’ life, calming his panic attacks by watching old Fred Astaire movies on television with him and cooking crawfish dinners. But when it becomes obvious that lonely Melody has a crush on Boris, he urges her to find someone her own age, only to realize he really loves her. So they get married and live contentedly until her mother (Patricia Clarkson) and then her father (Ed Begley Jr.) unexpectedly show up. Capricious complications occur as partners change and form amusingly unanticipated, far-fetched alliances.
Larry David makes a terrific alter-ego for Woody Allen, complete with his uniquely skewed, hypochondriac’s view of the universe, love for classical music and disdain for rock ‘n’ roll, and Evan Rachel Wood is a charmingly credible foil. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Whatever Works” is a familiarly farcical 8, advocating a non-judgmental attitude about the diverse choices people make to find happiness.