AWFJ Women On Film – “Whatever Works” – Susan Granger reviews

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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.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.