Whatever Works

From the opening strains of Groucho Marx crooning Hello, I Must Be Going, Woody Allen fans know exactly where they are. The jazz, any jazz, remains his signature playing over those titles and whatever follows is going to be, at the very least, interesting. Even his disappointing films of the last 20 years have remained a curiosity in his vast canon but has he ever delivered a film that plays as a greatest hits medley? Whatever Works, starring Seinfeld creator Larry David, is fun, occasionally lots of fun, yet it comes as no surprise to learn he penned it 30 years ago with himself in mind to play the bitter, old curmudgeon with a grudge against life itself.
One of the hardest jobs an actor can be asked to do is address the camera. He has to connect with us, make us like him or at least empathise so it’s a testament to David’s prowess that despite the vitriol he hurls at us and everyone else, his performance does engage. Boris Yellnikoff (get it?) is an angry Manhattanite, abusive to the children he teaches chess to, emotionally stunted, and his friends find him amusing but when nubile blonde-from-the-south Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), adrift in the city, shows up outside his building, his prejudices slowly change. Like so many of Allen’s characters from the past, Boris eventually surrenders and a marriage soon follows. Before long her mother (Patricia Clarkson) turns up, faints upon meeting her new son-in-law and proceeds to be seduced by the charms of the city that, rather neatly, brings me to…
As for that greatest hits medley I mentioned, true devotees of Allen may have recognised some of the references but for those that didn’t, the screenplay abounds with them. Let’s start with the ménage a trois Clarkson finds herself in. Was Vicky Cristina Barcelona only last year? Didn’t Gene Wilder explore carnal love with a sheep (slyly referenced here) in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex…But Were Afraid To Ask? Am I the only one who noticed how much David’s relationship with Wood mirrors Max Von Sydow’s relationship with Barbara Hershey in Hannah and Her Sisters? And while we’re visiting with Hannah, didn’t Allen wake up in that film screaming “I’m dying!”? Didn’t those comedians in Broadway Danny Rose sit in a café trading stories much as David and his buddies do here? Didn’t the film-within-a-film cast of The Purple Rose Of Cairo observe us in the final moments as the cast do here?
These references shouldn’t be a surprise when we consider the age of the screenplay, which Allen’s been using like a grab-bag ever since, and assembled, it makes for a delicious, if light, affair. The director’s deep, inquisitive meditations on who and why we love are long gone now only to be replaced with fleeting stand-up-comic one-liners. David is a great performer, lucky for Allen, and so many of his cutting observations echo those vexations the jokers of Seinfeld thrived on and he delivers them as if holding a rifle, Wood, once again demonstrating range, is admirable while Clarkson turns her clichéd character into something typically beguiling. The title applies to everything here…everything.
Michael Dalton

Bookmark and Share

also featured

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Based on the Peabody's Improbable History short segments from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show featuring a genius dog, Mr Peabody, and his pet boy, Sherman, who use the WABAC machine to travel back through time to ensure historical events follow their ‘proper’, subsequently written course.


Regardless of what you think of the big storybook, Noah succeeds in providing big spectacle.

The Lego Movie

Many films suffer from too many ideas at play, The Lego Movie greatly benefits from this approach.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the lesser well-received Marvel films.

All Is Lost

From J.C. Chandor, writer and director of the excellent GFC-inspired Margin Call, comes All Is Lost, a sea survival film with a cast of one: Robert Redford.

300: Rise of an Empire
It's been a long seven-year wait for the sequel to Zack Snyder's film of Frank Miller's graphic novel, 300, and it's not near long enough.

Dallas Buyers Club

Now that the annual Oscar madness has run its course, we can now see some of the honored films in their true light.


An alcoholic air marshal (Liam Neeson) on a long-haul Atlantic flight is texted a demand from an on-board terrorist to deposit $150 million into a bank account within twenty-minutes or someone on the plane dies.


Robo is back! When a film is popular long enough to achieve cult status it does strange things with your memory of said film.

Blue is the Warmest Colour
Winner of the Palm d'Or last year, it's almost a disappointment that the narrative in Blue is the Warmest Colour is so conventional.

Find on Facebook

Stay up to date with modmove news
about modmove
What to know how we got started?
read the modmove blog
Check out all the random stuff that didn't make it to the website!
contact Us
If you have any queries or if you would like more information about modmove,
we would love to hear from you! 
join our mailing list
subscribe to the mailing list and receive the modmove newsletter.
search modmove for previous news and reviews.


HootSuite - Social Media Dashboard

Privacy Notice
| Contact Us | Site Map | Copyright © 2009 | Entertainment and Popular Culture in Review at