Back home in the apartments and eateries of New York after his European sojourn, Woody Allen finds the perfect leading man (apart from himself) for 'Whatever Works', 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and 'Seinfeld' creator Larry David. Both men's explorations of self-absorption, cynicism and hypochondria have provided plenty of comedy gold over the years and all three are here again in this story of an intellectual who hasn't a good word to say about anyone but more of a heart than he'll ever admit.
Boris Yellnikoff (David) was a Nobel Prize contender in Quantum Physics who chucked in his professorship after a moment of perfect clarity which was followed by a failed suicide attempt (he landed on a canopy when he jumped out the window). Now divorced from his wealthy wife and earning a crust teaching kids chess, Boris' contempt for love, religion and his students is equalled only by his own self-regard.
Living a life of extreme avoidance, Boris is taken out of his comfort zone when Melody (Wood, playing a too-dumb-to-be-true character), a runaway from the South, arrives at his fire escape. She sees good everywhere; he can't see any. She's no understanding of sarcasm; he's crippled by it. But while Boris likes to think that he's providing Melody with something of an education, he's really the one who's learning the most lessons.
While 'Whatever Works' isn't the comedy classic Allen/David fans may have been hoping for, it's a likeable movie that asks lots of big questions but never gets too heavy. Through Boris, the other mixed up characters and their wrong and right choices, Allen seems to be addressing his own mortality and offering his own 10 cents of wisdom on how to get through life. What you get from the screen (often with Boris addressing you directly) is that our time is short, make the most of it and "hold on to whatever love you can in this cruel existence". It's a little stagy at times, but the joy of watching David in full rant can't be underestimated and while Boris warns that this is not "the feelgood movie of the year", you'd want to be a bigger grump than him not to have a few laughs.