WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Writer/director Woody Allen chose to remain behind the camera for Whatever Works, employing Larry David as his muse. The Curb Your Enthusiasm star plays a cranky pessimist who becomes the initially unwilling husband to a much, MUCH younger Southern girl with a father fixation. But when her conservative mother arrives, all hell breaks loose as Mom tries to drive her daughter away from the old guy and toward a much younger model. But New York City has a strange effect on everyone, and soon everyone in this very disparate group learns the best things in life are really "whatever works."
WHO'S IN IT?
Forgoing the umpteenth opportunity to play the May/December romance bit again, Allen turns over the starring role to David in an inspired bit of casting about which it's simply impossible to curb your enthusiasm. David, given hilarious monologues that riff on life and border on a constant stream of doomsday analysis, is perfect casting in Allen's peculiar New York world. What's most surprising is he actually creates a three-dimensional character we grow to care about, even though the flow of one-liners rarely stops. As the super-conservative Southern yokel mother-in-law, Patricia Clarkson is equally at home in Allen's universe and takes the stereotypical role into unexpected places. As the innocent ex-beauty queen who bounces into David's life, Evan Rachel Wood practically channels a backwoods Tammy persona, but somehow it works well enough for us to believe she could actually fall for such a cranky old man. Also of note is Ed Begley Jr.'s terrific turn as her pious father and estranged hubby of Clarkson who shows up near the end and defies all convention.
After a sojourn abroad, first to England for his expert thriller Match Point and the less successful Scoop, then to Spain for last year's delightful Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen returns triumphantly to his New York roots for the first time since 2004's Melinda and Melinda. Despite the absence, he hasn't lost a beat when it comes to his very singular view of the Big Apple and its inhabitants. Casting David was the masterstroke that makes this one stand out as one of the prolific Allen's (he turns out a film a year) most consistently amusing works in some time.
Whatever Works is very slight and feels more like one of the comedian's New Yorker short stories than a fully fleshed-out motion picture. But when you've got this kind of sharp dialogue and these performers, it's hard to quibble about substance.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Whatever works for you, but if you're a Woody Allen or Larry David fan, it's a must wherever you see it.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.