Whatever Works is the latest film from Woody Allen, with Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) taking over the lead role that Allen has occupied for years. The movie starts with Boris Yellnikoff (David) breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience he knows we’re watching and that if it’s a story we want it’s a story we’ll get.
Boris Yellnikoff is a genius who has a good life and family. One day, after having yet another nightmare about his own mortality that leads into another fight with his spouse (Carolyn McCormick), Boris decides it’s time to end the marriage. He makes a failed attempt at suicide, and this gives Boris his philosophy: if human existence is going to be so unpredictable, go with whatever works.
The movie then picks up some years later where Boris has become a grumpy old curmudgeon set in his ways who makes a living by teaching children how to play chess and berating them for their lack of intellect. Things change once he stumbles over Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) huddling on his doorstep. The 21-year-old former beauty queen from Mississippi gets along with Boris, who's in his 60s. He marries her after a month. The two are beneficial to each other; Melodie gets Boris to lighten up, while Boris teaches Melodie a thing or two about life in general.
Things get bumpy when Melodie's parents Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) and John (Ed Begley Jr) track her down at different times with the intent of bringing her back to Mississippi. However they too are affected by New York and undergo their own lifestyle changes.
David is great in the lead role which isn't too far from his persona on Enthusiasm. Wood is believable as the naïve southerner who gets Boris to lighten up while losing some of her naivete. Clarkson and Begley Jr do a great job as Melodie’s parents who have great intentions of “rescuing her” from the big bad New York and instead change their points of view and end up staying.
My only complaint is the extras (or lack thereof): the original trailer for Whatever Works is the only “extra!” For whatever reason none of Woody Allen’s DVDs have any extras and that’s a shame. Even if Allen didn’t participate, you could have had interviews with the actors.