Whatever Works, in my opinion, ultimately expounds two hypotheses. Firstly, in Annie Hall Woody Allen says “Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers[.] I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.” This is what Mr. Allen demonstrates in this film, with a string of characters that come to New York, and become – well, homosexual pornographers, in the best possible sense of that term. The film is about the healing power of New York; a bastion of reason, no matter how neurotic, in a fundamentally insane country and world. The various mishaps that lead to the spectacular change in the characters is unrealistic, yes, but it is not meant to be realistic. It is a self-aware reduction of the rest of the world outside of Woody Allen’s own head into the Freudian terms which he understands; and as far as reductionism goes, it’s very forgiving.
The second thesis is the one that is most simply put by the words “whatever works.” Ultimately, Woody Allen’s characters are painfully aware of the fleeting nature of life, none more painfully than Boris, played by Larry David. His several failed suicide attempts have left him an old, bitter man, one that it is decidedly difficult to like in certain parts of the film. It is he, however, that provides the formula to get through the painful existence. Namely, whatever happiness, whatever fleeting moment of love one can find, it is imperative to simply hold onto it for as long as one can. Don’t be ignorant of the possibility of the end – indeed, ignorance is the one thing Larry David’s character cannot be accused of; but instead be a little less concerned with the it. While certain aspects of the theory could be perceived as depressing, it is, in my opinion, actually very romantic. Woody Allen seems to have found a way to make luck, irrationality of love, and quantum mechanics not put down, but rather promote a more romantic outlook on life, choosing to look past the bad parts rather than being unaware of them.
Overall, the film is a welcome return to the more classical approach of film-making for Woody Allen. The character played by Larry David is very much the one Allen played himself countless times, and the breaking of the fourth wall, certain characters’ self-awareness is reminiscent of Annie Hall in a significant way. The writing is, at times, great. The one liners are as funny as only Woody Allen can deliver, and the young girl’s repetition of Boris’s jaded theories on the emptiness of existence is hilarious. Evan Rachel Wood’s performance here is played with a welcome comedic awareness and conviction so lacking in some of the more modern comedies. Patricia Clarkson’s performance as the girl’s mother plays a scheming mother-in-law is remarkably likable despite her occasionally despicable actions. Larry David’s own performance is occasionally somewhat wooden, but his comedic delivery is difficult to dislike.
The film definitely ought to be seen by all fans of the earlier Woody Allen films. While his own acting is certainly missed, the experience is one which I found extremely uplifting. Besides, I have waited for years for Woody Allen to return to New York.