Woody Allen's Whatever Works

Woody Allen's latest film stars the brilliant Larry David and has been billed as a 'return to form' so is it any good?
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Dir: Woody Allen; Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr. 12A cert, 92 min

We're big fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm at Sabotage Times, and especially Larry David. The man behind Seinfeld has forged a new career playing himself, or a slightly exaggerated version, with a natural ad-libbing style that makes it difficult to tell if he is acting or not. A style influenced by other Jewish comedians, particularly Garry Shandling in The Larry Sanders Show, and, director of the film he's now starring in, Woody Allen. Allen's come in for a lot of stick in recent years, for the decline in quality of his films and his unconventional personal life. This is his 39th film, so maybe it's right he'll have made one or two stinkers, but the prospect of bringing David over from Curb's LA and back to Seinfeld's New York and Allen's spiritual home, where his humour works best must surely  herald his 'return to form'. Mustn't it?

David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a physics genius who was 'once considered for a Nobel Prize'. A grumpier, less likeable version of Curb's Larry, which he's quick to establish in the first scene of the film, just to let the audience know this isn't Curb the movie. After a failed suicide bid, Boris splits from his wife - who finally tired of his pessimistic 'huge world view' where everyone else is either an 'inchworm' or a 'moron' - and now spends his days teaching kids to play chess. Though his methiod consists of calling them cretins and whacking them round the head with the board.

Evan Rachel Wood, then enters his life, playing young Southern Belle runaway Melody, a girl so painfully thick it would be easy to dismiss the film right there. But to do so would be to miss the point of the film, where the wafer thin characters are merely there to keep the dialogue coming, the jokes zipping, and provide the machinery for David to work around to get the message of the film across.

Melody and Boris embark on an unlikely May to December relationship - an in your face reference to Allen's own marriage to someone 34 years his junior - and other characters including Patricia Clarkson as Melody's Blanche Dubois-esque mother and Ed Begley Jr as her ultra religious father straight from the bible belt, come into play. Like I say, don't expect and well rounded characters, it's pure pantomime, but if the idea of the film is to make you laugh - surely the aim of any comedy - then Allen's pulled it off.

The jokes come thick and fast, snappy one liners, lengthier diatribes, jokes where even though you can see the punchline coming, you still chuckle in your seat. From the crude, such as when Ed Begley Jr's character, informed about his ex-wife's ménage à trois bursts out with: "I knew we should never trust the goddamn French" to the more politically aware with Boris explaining: "Nights I have trouble sleeping and trying to explain to cretins that while a black man got into the White House he still can't get a cab in New York."

And so it goes on. 92 minutes of laughter - I can't remember the last time I laughed so much at a film in the cinema - to prove Boris's and ultimately Allen's outlook that, one should 'filch a little joy' in whatever way one can in 'this cruel, dog-eat-dog, pointless, black chaos' it's 'whatever works' for you. And this film works for me.