Boris (Larry David) is sitting around outside pontificating at his friends, as is his wont, telling them how humanity is basically a failed species, because no matter how often one of them conjures up an idea that would genuinely improve the world, everyone else resorts to the most selfish behaviour that would benefit them anyway, and ultimately ignore the good idea, even demonising it in some cases. His friends are more sceptical, preferring to believe that humanity is rather more benevolent than Boris would have it, but he will not be swayed, and besides he has to entertain the audience with his personal views. When his companions question that there is anyone there at all, he starts addressing us personally...
Whatever Works was a script Woody Allen had sat on since the nineteen-seventies, for whatever reason never satisfied with it until he dusted it off as a vehicle for one of his favourite comedians, Larry David, who he had known for some time by that point, but never really worked with each other to any extensive degree. David was riding high on the television ratings with his sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, and for many humour fans the thought of these two giants in their entertainment arena teaming up to craft a movie was too much to resist. However, one caveat that had to apply was that Allen and David never shared the screen in this, indeed Allen was nowhere to be seen at all, leaving his star to spout his dialogue.
To all intents and purposes a paean to New York City, this had what for some were confusing messages to consider when the main plot saw Boris and a young drifter new in the city move in with one another. Or rather, Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), moves in with him after he finds her on the street outside his apartment and she invites herself in to help herself to his food and take advantage of the roof over his head, which in a different movie would end up with something akin to Goldie Hawn driving Steve Martin up the wall in Housesitter, but here leads to romance. Now, the thought of Allen placing David in a role where he had a relationship with a woman forty years his junior was enough to turn some audiences off right there and then.
Yet it was not as if Allen was presenting this without irony, for he introduced a twist or three that more or less had him saying "Aah - you thought I was doing this but in fact I was doing that!" The director was no stranger to May to December romances, he had been the beneficiary of one that after huge controversy had settled into what for some was an unexpectedly enduring union, but the spectre of those nineties newspaper headlines did tend to dog his work whenever he depicted an older man and younger woman showing interest in one another. However, not to spoil anything but Boris is flattered by Melody's interest and she is captivated by his (often self-proclaimed) genius to create a fairly happy connection, in spite of the manner in which he patronises her at every turn.
Then Melody's parents show up, and Whatever Works plays its hand: it was all about teaching those Southerners that the North, specifically The Big Apple, was the greatest, most enlightened and educational place on the planet, where a callow young girl could learn and grow as a person, and her conservative parents could tap into reserves of self-expression they would have hardly admitted to before encountering the city. But there was more: Boris can learn from Melody too, when he realises that simply because you espouse a cynical view of life does not mean you have a more intelligent grasp on existence, you might actually be shutting yourself off from the happiness that was easily within your capabilities should pessimism not have gripped your personality. A valuable insight, particularly from one so famously dissatisfied as Allen, but whether you were convinced was another matter as this often came across as a New York tourist board commercial, only advertising an entire way to live instead of a place to visit when you're in the area.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hits Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.