Whatever Works – Woody Allen is back in New York; but is he back on form?

Whatever Works - Larry David plays misanthropic New Yorker Boris Yellnikoff in Woody Allen’s comic fable

After recent spells abroad in London and Barcelona, Woody Allen is back on his familiar Manhattan stamping ground with Whatever Works.

This gleefully ironic comic fable feels very different in tone from the likes of Vicky Christina Barcelona and Match Point – and it’s not just the Big Apple setting that’s responsible. Woody has dusted off an old screenplay from the early 1970s that he’d originally written for Zero Mostel, a script that got shelved when the star died in 1977.

Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David now plays the lead: cranky smart-ass Boris Yellnikoff, a divorced former physicist who claims he once almost won the Nobel Prize for quantum mechanics.

Boris spends his days kvetching about the “submental cretins” he has to live among, but his crotchety misanthropy gets shaken up when Evan Rachel Wood’s naïve young Southern runaway, Melody St Ann Celestine, breezes into his life. When Melody’s uptight parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Belgley Jr, both splendid) turn up in search of their daughter, everyone’s life gets put in the blender.

Whatever Works - Larry David’s Boris & Evan Rachel Wood’s Melody in Woody Allen’s comic fable

As one crabby Jewish New Yorker playing another, David’s a much better on-screen alter ego for the director than many of the Woody surrogates we’ve seen over the years (remember Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity?). Even so, the fit isn’t perfect.

David’s grouchy monologues to camera sound off. Perhaps it’s the datedness of the script. Perhaps it’s David’s limitations as an actor. Perhaps only Woody himself can really play ‘Woody’.

Or it could be that the sight of yet another of the director’s wrinkled oldsters hooking up with a gorgeous young woman is just too icky to take – even if he is supposed to be a figure of fun.

On general release from 25th June.


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