Whatever Works explores the relationship between a crotchety misanthrope, Boris (Larry David) and a naïve, impressionable young runaway from the south, Melody (Evan Rachel Wood). When Melody's uptight parents arrive in New York to rescue her, they are quickly drawn into wildly unexpected romantic entanglements. Everyone discovers that finding love is just a combination of lucky chance and appreciating the value of "whatever works."
Woody Allen's cynical sensibility so superbly dovetails with Larry David's acerbic misanthropy, it's a wonder they haven't worked together before. But no matter: fans of Allen, David, and especially David's Curb Your Enthusiasm
will delight in the ability of Whatever Works
to find humor in the darkest and most abrasive of life's corners.
The crux of this odd love story involves the unlikely friendship between David's character (the brilliant, kvetchy Boris) and the Southern beauty queen with a heart of gold and a brain of wide-open spaces, Melodie (the always-surprising Evan Rachel Wood). Boris takes on Melodie as a tutorial project, showing her the bleak ways of the world, and Melodie takes care of Boris with crayfish and Fred Astaire movies. There are other memorable performances by Patricia Clarkson, as Melodie's deeply religious and tightly wound mama, and Ed Begley Jr, as her husband, a Southerner slightly to the right of George Wallace. The parents come to the big city to reclaim their wayward lamb, and when the Southerners meet the New Yorkers, sparks fly--in ways both good and slightly scary.
The film works because of the unlikely chemistry between the two stars and because of David's unflinchingly dyspeptic portrayal, which--while not exactly cozy to watch--is undeniably brilliant. The two find that their oddball friendship helps each of them find a little more meaning in their lives. "Whatever works"--a simple but profound recipe for happiness. --A.T. Hurley