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Movie Review: Whatever Works

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Larry David plays Boris Yellnikoff, the “Woody Allen character” in the director’s latest film, Whatever Works. We’re not so much introduced to Boris as we are identified by him as he looks past the fourth wall to tell moviegoers in the opening scene that, “This is not the ‘Feel Good Movie of the Year.’ So, if you’re one of those idiots who needs to feel good… ehh… go get yourself a foot massage.” But don’t take his word for it.

Boris is an unlikely guide through this charming tale of overlapping love stories. A former Columbia physics professor with a genius IQ, he once had what seemed like the perfect marriage to Jessica, a beautiful, wealthy and intelligent woman. While having a panic attack one morning, Boris comes to the conclusion that his good-on-paper marriage isn’t working and the realization puts him over the edge and right out the kitchen window.

Evan Rachel Wood shines sweetly as Melody, a girl who has run away from her parents’ strict Christian home in Mississippi and is every bit as guileless and wholesome as Britney Spears was originally packaged to appear. She’s no virgin, either, having made love to a boy to whom she was not married behind a tent at a crawfish boil, and is sad about how it means she’ll never get to heaven.

When these two chance to cross paths, Boris limping due to his failed suicide attempt, it is clear that no matter how big the box of Crayola’s you have to work with, they will never look good on paper. Boris finds Melody on his doorstep and with the compassion his sharp tongue belies, he takes her into his home and eventually his heart. The two fall in love and are living happily together a year later when another guest arrives from down south.

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Patricia Clarkson, who plays Melody’s mother Marietta, turns up on the happy couple’s doorstep in a hot pink dress with a matching scrunchie in her hot-roller curled hair. Melody may not be the brightest thing, but she reads people pretty well and is not surprised to hear her father has run off with her mother’s best friend. Marietta’s marriage troubles don’t bother her nearly as much as her daughter’s being married to Boris, and she’s quickly scheming to bring her daughter together with someone more age appropriate. This is where old Woody Allen meets new Woody Allen as he brings a little touch of England to New York in casting handsome British actor Henry Cavill as Randy Lee James, Marietta’s choice for Melody.

It’s not long before Melody’s father John, played by Ed Begley, Jr., arrives in New York in pursuit of his wife. But Marietta is not the same buttoned up, God fearing woman he cheated on. The relationships she’s developed in New York have helped her to unleash her passions, both sexually and artistically. The straightening iron she traded her curlers in for doesn’t get as hot as her love life or newfound career. Her transformation inspires John to let go of some of his most deep-seated and damaging beliefs and he, too, finds love in a most unexpected person.

Whatever Works is not a love story, but it tells a story about love. Whether found at first sight or after a leap of fate, often transitory because it is transformative, love works wonders for the characters of this film. Take that for whatever you will.

Review by Courtney Quinn