While his name may not be discussed quite as much anymore, Woody Allen continues to push forward, making a movie at a clip of at least one a year. "Whatever Works" is of particular interest, because it stars Larry David - and there is possibly no other person who can replicate Allen on-screen better than Larry David. David, who hasn't had much success on the big screen but has gained critical acclaim with "Curb Your Enthusiasm", could possibly be described as a modern day version of Allen - take Allen's famed neurotic nature and social awkwardness and put it into a drier, bitter and far more irritable package and one winds up with Larry David.
David stars in "Whatever Works" as Boris, a former Nobel runner-up who starts the movie chatting with his pals in a NYC cafe, chatting about his story - initially to his pals, but then, as he explains - to the people watching them (in other words, the audience.) The lengthy opening rant from Boris is oddly thrilling, because it is something near perfection - lines of genuine bitterness that Allen would have played for laughs suddenly land with greater impact due to David's acidic delivery, which is turned up to 11. Additionally, while "Curb" has great writing (some of which is improv), "Whatever Works" pairs David with a rapid-fire script from Allen.
The picture follows Boris as he tries to pick up the pieces after a divorce, and walks the streets angering most people who cross his path (he even yells at a kid in the park after taking her money in a chess match.) One night, he meets Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a sweet, innocent Southern runaway who needs a place to stay. She's naive and kind - and he manages to insult her every chance he gets ("Just shut up, cretin."), which doesn't even phase her. Yet, for all his anger, she still cares for him, even when he has terrible anxiety at night ("I saw the abyss", he says, after the incident. As she's turning on the TV, she replies, "Don't worry, we'll watch something else.") Later on, he complains about his ulcer - when she says he said he didn't have one, he replies, "I said they can't find an ulcer, not that I didn't have one."
He eventually warms up to her and she sees through his anger. When it finally hits him that she's wholly opposite from him and therefore oddly perfect, the two get married. However, when her mother shows up out of the blue, things get rocky.
"Whatever Works" is not classic Allen and the movie is one joke (David's bitter nature - which is turned up to 11 here - against Wood's cheery, sweet character.) However, the joke works and David takes Allen's sharp, funny script and turns in a fantastic performance. As bitter and irritable as the picture is, it builds to a sweet side that works. "Whatever Works" is Allen's best in a while.
VIDEO: "Whatever Works" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Sony Pictures Classics. . The anamorphic widescreen edition is fine enough, with sharpness and detail remaining a bit above average. A couple of slight instances of edge enhancement were spotted, but the picture otherwise looked smooth and clean. On a positive note, no edge enhancement is seen and the print was in excellent shape, with no scratches or marks. Colors looked bright and warm, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but it might as well be one of Allen's usual mono soundtracks. This is a front-heavy, dialogue-driven presentation. Audio quality is fine, with clear, well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: Much like Allen's other movies, really not much of anything in the way of extras - all that's offered is the trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Whatever Works" works - and quite well - thanks to a very funny script and a fantastic performance from Larry David. The DVD offers next-to-no extras, but fine audio/video quality.
The Film B+