Whatever Works

Happy dimwit Evan Rachel Wood confounds jaded string theorist Larry DavidPhoto: Sony Pictures Classics
5 StarsWhy I Saw It: Love Patricia Clarkson.
What I Thought: Witty and delightful, Woody Allen at his clever best.

Whatever Works. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Michael McKean, Carolyn McCormick, Henry Cavill, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Evan Welch, John Gallagher Jr. Sony Pictures Classics, 2009.

An exploration of love, happiness, and what makes the world go ’round, centering around the unlikely romance between a string theorist and an idealistic small-town girl.

I saw Whatever Works last week, absolutely adored it, and couldn’t figure out why this opinion just would not emerge.  Now it’s clear ~ I had to catch Vicky Cristina Barcelona first (I know, finally!!).

Whatever Works is everything Vicky Cristina Barcelona seemed to shoot at but couldn’t hit.  Where VCB was remote, Whatever Works is soulful. Where VCB‘s characters (as a rule) remained ever inaccessible, Whatever Works’ troupe engages ~ even when one perhaps doesn’t want to be engaged (think Larry David‘s spot-on, acerbic, egomaniacal Boris). Where VCB reveled in its own affectation, Whatever Works uses affectation to endear. And Where VCB left us (or me, anyway) discontented and disappointed, Whatever Works warms the heart and lifts the spirits.

Whether writer/director Woody Allen intended it or not (especially given he’d written it long prior), Whatever Works reconciles, corrects, and realizes all that VCB did not, including a couple of actual plot lines; in fact, its very underpinning is articulated and expressed verbatim. If you enjoyed Mighty Aphrodite, you’ll feel right at home here ~ it brings with it the same warm, witty, depressively reluctant optimism.

Of course no discussion involving VCB can be held without an  appropriate nod to the Oscar®-winning Penelope Cruz, with her counterpart here being Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler). Woods’ performance is nothing short of astounding; in fact, it never occurred to me she had it in her. If Cruz could secure the kudos for VCB, Wood should have no trouble whatsoever securing many for Whatever Works.  Patricia Clarkson fans will emerge from the theater beaming.

It’s charming, it’s quick, it’s endearing, it’s well-acted… and no, I’m not going to say it. But it does.

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