Whatever Works

Movie Review #807: ‘Whatever Works’…works.

By Alexander Diminiano

Comedy, Romance
Rated PG-13 (contains mature themes, sexual content, partial nudity, suggestive dialogue)
92 minutes

In “Whatever Works”, Larry David portrays a character just the same as Jack Nicholson’s character in “As Good As It Gets”. He’s extremely smart, but he hates human beings and does not have any faith at all in the world. He walks around insulting everyone in sight, especially someone who loves him—a young runaway played by Evan Rachel Wood. Right, that’s Helen Hunt’s character in “As Good As It Gets”. And despite any and all doubt about it, David and Wood fall in love at the end of “Whatever Works”. The same thing happened to Nicholson and Hunt 12 years before.

I’m not saying this is a completely ripoff of “As Good As It Gets”. I’m sure there are many movies like this; “As Good As It Gets” is simply the first that comes to mind, for this critic at least. And like that late ‘90s classic, “Whatever Works” has a heart. The transformation of the lead character from a misanthrope/existential nihilist into a likable, well-rounded man is convincing in both the writing and the acting. Woody Allen’s screenplay is outstanding (per the usual), and his choice of Larry David in the main role transcends almost anything that has previously established him as an actor’s director. I’ll confess that I haven’t seen David in his HBO improv comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm, but if David plays a character as upstanding as this one, who ironically creates comedy and likability from the fact that we don’t agree with him, I’d love to start watching the series.

Evan Rachel Wood delivers an enthusiastic performance as David’s counterpart, and she’s quite memorable, too. At one point in the film, a certain suitor tells her he dreamt of her the night before. “Don’t use that line,” she says, “because Boris said he dreamt about me last night, and I really doubt that it’s mathematically possible for me to be in two dreams at one time.” Wood plays a slower sort of individual—particularly for the likes of David, whose IQ stands at 200—but she’s at her greatest when she’s trying to sound as smart as David. From this kind of character, the one-liners are just as wonderful as when they come from the mouth of the intellectual that Woody Allen would play in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Personal favorite: “All I know is that nothing moves faster than the speed of light, so you may as well relax.”

“Whatever Works” is a formulaic but satisfying movie. It’s clever and ultimately enthralling to watch. What’s more, it’s a true feel-good comedy, despite the misanthropic lead. Most likely, it’s thanks to the enthusiasm from Evan Rachel Wood in the supporting role, though as I’ve previously mentioned, the movie’s enjoyment also roots from David’s performance and Allen’s screenplay. Maybe misanthropy isn’t the most politically correct territory to cover in a 2009 comedy, but David hits the nail on the head, and earns massive laughs as a result. ✴


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