Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Whatever Works


Whatever Works (2009) I was a little suspicious of this one. I only saw a few clips from Larry David’s chief claim to fame, Curb Your Enthusiasm, (other than producing Seinfeld, and I guess I’m the only literate North American who never saw that show), and I had no trouble curbing mine. He is really at center stage here, and he won me over pretty fast by looking right at the camera and telling me he’s a conceited, irascible, cranky, misanthropic, miserable old fuck who has thrown himself out of a window. Twice. I like that in a conceited, cranky misanthrope.

(I’ve seen plenty of movies where a character breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to us, but this is the first time that the other characters notice him talking to the audience, which they can’t see. Naturally, they assume he’s crazy, but they all knew that already, so they don’t commit him. I’m not sure what Woody’s point was in doing it this way, but it didn’t hurt anything.)

He is Boris Yelnikov, a retired professor of quantum mechanics and other arcana who now spends his days as a chess teacher, berating and brow-beating his pre-adolescent students until they cry. He has a small circle of friends who put up with his pessimism and nihilism. Then a ray of sunshine appears in the young, sunny, runaway airhead Melodie St. Anne Celestine. (Evan Rachel Wood is pitch perfect in the part, with the New Orleans accent, the incredible ignorance of most everything, but the sunny disposish that I feel will always pull her through.) Her proposed few nights on the couch out of the rain turn into weeks, and months, and finally to marriage. Boris knows he’s never going to make a Pygmalion story out of her, but she does pick stuff up here and there, and all in all is doing better than he is.

Then her mother (Patricia Clarkson) shows up, determined to get her little chick back. And then her father, a fundamentalist fuckhead (but I repeat myself …), shows up, too. And the rest of the film completely surprised me. First Mom ends up living with not one New York guy, but two. Soon she is dressing like a Beatnik and having some success at photography and just having a swell time. Then when Dad arrives … and I won’t even go into the epiphany he has, but it’s swell. Things don’t stay rosy for Boris and Melodie, though … and yet, everything works out for everybody in the end, which is really a big surprise when you consider the situation.