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Heroes of the Zeroes: Whatever Works

by on November 30, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Whatever Works”
Rated PG-13
2009

Woody Allen’s surrogates often mistake wild gesticulation or nasal prattling for his neurotic essence — obvious caricature at best, Kenneth Branagh at worst.

Fans of Larry David — essentially Allen’s younger brother from another mother — know he’s the next best thing, able to huff, puff and blow the fourth wall in with misanthropic monologues. Like Allen, this irritable impresario finds ways to both bristle over, and beam at, life’s long onslaught.

People cynically walk into so much expecting disappointment — auditoriums showing Allen’s annual crapshoots, for example. Sometimes, they get the expected middling results. Sometimes, as with 2009’s “Whatever Works,” a 30-year-old script off which Allen blew dust, they get unanticipated surprises.

Allen’s finest, funniest farce since “Mighty Aphrodite” cast Evan Rachel Wood as yokel- ingénue Melody St. Ann Celestine and let David’s Boris Yelnikoff “filch a little joy from the pointless black chaos.”

After failed attempts at marriage and suicide, Boris remains ready to end it. After Melody turns up in Boris’s alley — like a cat sensing allergies and insisting upon being petted — her guilelessness soothes this savage beast. (“In a pinch,” he says, “she’s a six.”) Their pessimistic Pygmalion connection leads to matrimony and Melody’s mom (Patricia Clarkson) arriving to annul.

Happy accidents ensue, abiding by Boris’s titular ethos of making do and hurting no one. Even if love is, as he believes, an illusion of meaning to quell panic, it can quell. “Works” finds pleasant, if wry, rhythms in life’s fits and starts, aware impressionable circumstances aren’t wasted on youth.

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