Sony // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // October 27th, 2009
A new comedy.
Being a devoted Woody Allen fan, I was looking forward to Whatever Works. Noted by many as a return to form for the writer-director, the script was actually written in the early 1970s, with Woody having the great Zero Mostel (The Producers) in mind as the lead. However, the final result doesn't have the insane energy or irreverence of say, Bananas or Love and Death. In fact, it's more along the lines of Stardust Memories or Mighty Aphrodite, though it has the type of acerbic, acidic wit which was found in Deconstructing Harry. Allen's latest effort may fall short of being one of the funniest films of the year, though it has a hundred more laughs than such summer cavities as Year One and Land Of The Lost.
Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm) admits he's not a very likable guy. He also warns the audience in the first scene that Whatever Works is not the "feel-good movie of the year." Going through each day as a sloth-like misanthrope, Boris was once considered for a Nobel Prize. His long marriage to Jessica (Carolyn McCormick, Law & Order) ended after a series of panic attacks led to a failed suicide attempt, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his life; and he makes a living teaching kids -- whom he labels as cretins -- chess in parks or cafes. Everything else he takes with a grain of salt, garnering contentment by "whatever works."
Boris' life is turn upside down with the entrance of Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood, The Wrestler). She's a 21-year-old Southern gal who finds this disgruntled man oddly appealing, and proceeds to cheer him up whenever she can. She even develops a crush on him, but he only responds when she adopts his philosophies on life. They get married, and Boris actually begins to embrace life less sarcastically. Things get complicated, however, when Melodie's ultra-conservative mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson, Good Night and Good Luck) shows up out of the blue and insists on finding a younger man for her daughter. Following Marietta is her ex-husband John (Ed Begley, Jr., Pineapple Express), who hopes to win her back.
Whatever Works marks Woody's return to his hometown of N.Y.C. after a five-year absence making films in Europe. It may not have the freshness or spontaneity of last year's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but it's way better than the fiasco known as Scoop. There's a generous helping of Woody one-liners here, and David delivers them with irresistible gusto. Many actors who've channeled the Woody persona over the years usually do so with middling results, but David is ideal because of similar quirks and neuroses associated with his character in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Matching him is Wood, who's never been better, and Clarkson, as the mother whose flower blossoms via art and sex.
In essence, the teaming of Woody and Larry is a match made in comedy heaven, and more than makes up for the dated aura that plagues Allen's script. We've been to this territory many times before, and it's beginning to get a bit tiring. Whatever Works has other small flaws to contend with. The tone wavers too often between the sweet and the sour. The relationship between David and Wood will no doubt turn off some viewers, though Allen makes a wise choice to keep the intimacy subdued. The story also stumbles when it begins to shift its focus off of Melanie and Boris in the second half. I must also agree with Judge Michael Rubino in that the director doesn't use his hometown to his full advantage, resulting in "stagy framing and long takes." Still, the leads and laughs are enough to overlook such inconsistencies.
Sony's treatment of Whatever Works in high definition is kind of a letdown, however. The 1.78:1 non-anamorphic image lacks the bright colors and sharp flesh tones we would normally find on Blu-ray and there is a surprising amount of grain evident in every frame. In the beginning, the actors look a bit flushed, and things only moderately improve from there. Some of the indoor scenes (particularly in Boris' apartment) also are a bit murky and flat. The picture is generally clean, however, and black levels are excellent.
Things are much better on the audio front. We get an English 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless track, which gives full attention to the brassy band and classical pieces on the soundtrack. Natural noise is kept at a nice level, with the outdoor New York scenes flourishing with local sounds. Subtitles are provided in English and SDH, but dialogue is perfectly audible. Aside from the disc being BD-Live enabled, there are no extras.
Woody and Larry fans will definitely want to buy this, but the Blu-ray
presentation is underwhelming. As a result, the film is free to go, but Sony is
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13