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Review: Whatever Works (2009)

Directed by: | 91 minutes | comedy | Actors: , Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley , , , , , , , , , , John Gallagher Jr,

Around 2005 Woody Allen surprised friend and foe by leaving his beloved New York and settling in Europe. After a few mediocre comedies at the beginning of the 21st century, the European foray yielded two strong dramas (‘Match Point’ and ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’), a decent (‘Cassandra’s Dream’) and a bad comedy (‘ Scoop ‘). Rather than focus on serious work after returning to New York, Allen comes up with a comedy again. Based on a script from the 1970s.

As is often the case in his comedies, Allen does not play along himself, but there is a neurotic and philosophizing character that looks a lot like him. Yet this Boris Yelnikoff (Seinfeld brain Larry David) is distinguished from earlier Allen incarnations. Yelnikoff is much tougher, more cynical, and more confident than the doubting and half-soft characters of yesteryear. The monologue with which Yelnikoff addresses the viewer at the beginning is telling. A rant about the stupidity of man and the meaninglessness of existence. And we, the audience, should not think this is a feel-good movie, according to Yelnikoff. Because if there’s one thing he hates …

The character Yelnikoff ensures that the humor is sharper and harder than we are used to from Allen. Especially when the brilliant physicist rages against his young chess students once again, it is delicious. It is also nice that we are spared a dull plot such as in “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” or “Scoop”. The fact that the story is secretly about the wonderful ways of love is no problem either.

Unfortunately, not everything is equally strong about Whatever Works. We now know Allen’s thoughts on art, love and relationships. Sometimes the humor is very lackluster and there are too many caricatures, like Melody’s extremely religious father. Something also went wrong with the casting, because character player Evan Rachel Wood (with a dredge-fat accent and incredibly stupid look) seems totally out of place in this comedy. The fact that “Whatever Works” makes it through is due to the humor, the relaxed atmosphere and a few moving scenes. Less good than “Match Point” or all that wonderful past work, better than the bland comedies of the turn of the millennium.

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