"Whatever Works" Screening Companion

-The theme, and indeed the phrase ‘whatever works’, has been used by Allen for decades. In that sense, it’s the purest expression of Allen’s world view. Characters meet and couple up almost randomly. Luck plays a major role in finding happiness. And what happiness you can find in this cold world should be treasured, whatever shape it comes in. [12]


-Fans of both Allen and David anticipated the collaboration as a glorious melding of curmudgeonly comic minds, but it serves mainly to underscore their differences. The role of Yelnikoff was originally written in the 1970s, and intended for Zero Mostel; he's an archetypal Allen protagonist, eking humour from despair as he peers over the existential abyss. David's character – and, by his own admission, he can only really play one character – doesn't spend much time peering over abysses. He's far more troubled by people who put "no presents" on their party invitations while secretly expecting presents, and by the elastic in his sweater sleeves. [9]


-Remember the Woody Allen of the seventies, the guy who several generations of New Yorkers decided was the comedic poet laureate of their era of the city? The man with whom they had a great first date (1973’s Sleeper) that deepened into a full-on relationship (1977’s Annie Hall) and then further enriched itself into true love (1979’sManhattan), because we always fall in love with the one who makes us laugh? Whatever Works is, in essence, the missing movie from that period—the film that would have rounded out the New York phase of Allen’s early career if only he had made it. [10]


-This movie is literally vintage Woody Allen. In fact, it calls to mind a brand of Jewish humor that has, in recent years, been all but scrubbed out—neurotic, depressive, abrasive, excluded. And to serve as its embodiment, he drafted Larry David, the guy who, through six seasons of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, has done more than anyone—even Allen—to keep that sensibility alive for a generation to whom it’s now almost completely foreign. [10]

-Runtime: 96 minutes

-Released on June 19, 2009

-Production Company: Sony Pictures Classics (presents), Wild Bunch (in association with), Gravier Productions (in association with), Perdido Productions

-Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

-Rated PG-13

-Budget: $15 million [1]

-Gross: $5.3 million [1]

-Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1

Script Origins


-The role of Boris Yellnikoff was original written for Zero Mostel. After Mostel's death in 1977, Woody Allen set the screenplay aside. However, with a potential actor's strike during 2008-9, Allen chose this old screenplay to be his next film. [1]


-Furthermore Zero Mostel and Larry David both played the role of Max Bialistock. Mostel in the original Producers and David in the play within a show representing the main story arc from season 4 of Curb your Enthusiasm. [1]


-When Woody Allen started to write the movie back in the 70s, his main idea was to tell how a family of intolerant rednecks changed completely for different reasons after a while in New York. [1]


-According to Allen, the only significant changes to the script involved updating the topical references. [3]

Larry David


-Casting Director Juliet Taylor suggested Larry David for the lead role. [5]


-David says that when Allen initially offered him the role of Boris, he wasn't sure he could handle it.


-Larry David: "He [Allen] reassured me; he said he thought that it would be a stretch for me, but nothing that I couldn't handle. So I said OK."


-Actually, this was David's third film with Allen. He had a tiny part in "Radio Days" (1987) where "all you got was my bald head" in an aerial shot. In Allen's "Oedipus Wrecks" segment from "New York Stories" (1989), David appeared in a brief scene in which Allen's character goes searching for his overbearing mother, who has strangely disappeared.


-David says he didn't hear from Allen again until the director sent him the "Whatever Works" screenplay with a cover letter attached.


-[Larry] phoned Allen to warn him about his limitations as a performer: "I said, 'You know, I'm not really an actor! All you're pretty much going to get is what you've already seen. If you get an actor, they'll jazz it up, they'll do something to their appearance. They'll do tics and mannerisms.' But he said: 'I don't want that.'" [9]


-"And I thought the script was brilliant," David says. "But I had my doubts as to whether or not I could do it. Because it's not the kind of thing I normally do. I generally just play myself." [4]


-Allen told him he’d be fine; he even encouraged David to leap away from the screenplay and improvise. But David arrived determined to stick to the script, retreating to his trailer to memorize lines between scenes. [10]


-“But I opened this script up,” says David, “and there’s Boris all over page one. I turned to page 50, and there’s Boris. I went to the last page and saw that Boris had a big speech. And I thought, I need to tell him I can’t do this, really. I called and said, ‘I think you’re under the wrong impression about my acting from the show, because it’s all improvised, and it’s all in my wheelhouse. I haven’t really played a character before.’ ” [10]


Boris Yellnikoff = Woody Allen?


-Woody Allen: "People always look for clues [about me] in my movies no matter how many times I've told them over the years I make this stuff up," [7]


-Allen says that the idea that his films are autobiographical remains the most widespread misconception about him. For all the obvious parallels between his life and the fretting, hypochondriac, psychotherapy-fixated characters in his films, he maintains that the Woody Allen of popular imagination is simply a screen persona designed to get laughs. [6]


-He believes the second popular misconception about him is that he is an intellectual: ‘Which I’m completely not. I never read any books when I was younger, never had intellectual interests, flunked out of college in my freshman year with low marks. To this day, I much prefer watching a basketball game or baseball game to reading. I don’t have any profound thoughts on anything,’ he says. [6]


-Hypochondria has been a part of the Woody Allen shtick since his days as a stand-up. But it’s easy to get the impression that he genuinely does live in a world of health-conscious self-abnegation. [6]


-He rarely drinks alcohol, allowing himself only the occasional glass of wine with meals. For all his involvement in analysis, he has never taken any mood-altering medication: ‘I’ve never taken a Valium in my life, or a sleeping pill, or an antidepressant of any sort. I’ve never had Prozac – none of that nonsense.’ [6]


-Woody Allen: "I have to interject. This is not a part that I could have played even if I was younger. Larry is able to do this kind of sardonic, you know, sarcastic, vitriolic, humor, and get away with it. Cause there’s something obviously built into him that audiences like. You know, Groucho Marx had this. They were never offended by Groucho, they were offended if he didn’t insult them, he told me once." [11]

Larry David = Woody Allen?


-Allen and David don’t know each other that well, but watching them watch each other during a joint interview, it’s easy to imagine where they found common ground during production—in the joy of glumness. [10]


-“We both have some disdain for the human race” — Larry David on comparisons between himself and Woody Allen [8]


-In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, David says this lack of a position means he isn’t “nearly as ambitious or as smart” as Woody Allen. All he does, David says, is “make the big things small and the small things big. It’s a comedic device. That works for me.” But David needs to give himself some credit. He’s ambitious in exactly the extreme to which he takes mundanity. That is, his lack of a position is a position in itself. It’s the posture of absurdist slacker comedy, one where the world has become so alien that we need to disengage entirely. [8]


-Without argument, this is not the position Woody Allen has taken throughout his life. In casting David in Whatever Works — even considering that the script was first drafted in the 1970s — Woody Allen takes David’s position of nihilism and critiques it. With Allen as director, David has to role-play a caricature of himself who is forced to reengage with society and, essentially, come to terms with Allen’s take on the necessity of creating meaning in life. In this way, the whole movie takes on a very weirdly didactic tone, becoming a bizarre enactment of a mentee-mentor relationship between the two as Allen puppets David through his worldview. [8]



-Larry David and Woody Allen must have been separated at birth. It's uncanny how similar they are. It's more than Larry simply imitating Woody. They must share the same genes. So the question comes to mind, "Would Whatever Works" been a more interesting film if Larry David and Woody Allen both were in it together? Maybe playing brothers? Perhaps the world wasn't ready for that film. Yet it still feels like a major miss opportunity for comic gold. [WAW]


-The picture that results is, anyone would concede, strange—a Larry David movie that doesn’t quite feel like a Larry David movie and a new Woody Allen movie that isn’t really new. Nonetheless, it’s Woodyish enough, and Larryish enough, to make you wish that Allen—who doesn’t appear in the movie—had contrived a way for the two of them to share the screen, emperors of adjoining comedy galaxies finally colliding. To watch the movie is to witness the Jewish man as funny–sad–barely functional Gloomy Gus come to life again and also to wonder if that guy still has any relevance in an age when American Jews don’t feel so bad about things, except on Yom Kippur. [10]



-Allen originally wrote this as a play (a play in the ‘70s). [2]


-At her audition, Evan Rachel Wood said she’d rather not do a Southern accent unless she “had to” (i.e., until she was actually cast) because she didn’t want to go through the trouble of learning it otherwise. Allen said he related to this (of course he would) and offered her the part. [2]

Critical Reception


-Mike LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Woody Allen had a nice winning streak going for him, and then he brought in his younger self to screw things up. "Whatever Works," originally written in the 1970s as a vehicle for Zero Mostel, sat in a drawer for 30 years, until Allen dusted it off for Larry David. The result is Allen's weakest film in years."


-Every Woody Allen Movie web site film critic wrote, "Whatever Works has all the markings of a late-period Woody Allen comedy — light, talky, haphazard, not particularly original. But it has an ace in the hole, which elevates it beyond movies like Scoop or Anything Else: the best-written, best-acted lead character in a Woody Allen comedy since Sweet and Lowdown. The rest of the movie does him no favors, but Larry David helps make Whatever Works into a movie that, while unlikely to endure as a classic, is the most consistently funny movie in the Woody Allen canon for at least a decade." [2]


Michael Phillips for the Chicago Tribune wrote, "Coming off last year's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the freshest Allen film in more than a decade, Whatever Works plays like a hoary old Broadway stage comedy yanked, reluctantly, into the present."


-Ann Hornaday for The Washington Post wrote: "This toxic, contemptuous, unforgivably unfunny bagatelle finds Allen at his most misanthropically one-note. Anyone with Allen's compulsive work ethic is bound to produce as many hits as misses; in recent years, the former include the sly Hitchcock homage "Match Point" and the uneven but ultimately pleasing "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." "Whatever Works" belongs firmly in the "miss" category, managing to be simultaneously lazy, inhumane and really kind of creepy."


-Peter Howell for the Toronto Star wrote, "We've seen this kind of May-December setup in many Allen movies, but this one follows a less predictable path and with more amusing secondary characters."


-Woody Allen Pages web site critic Danny wrote: "This is an ok film, really taken down by how familiar it feels. Returning to New York adds little, although it looks as beautiful as ever. In the 70s and 80s, every new Allen film was fresh and innovative. It’s no wonder this script was shelved in the first place. Coming off a string of exciting European films, ‘Whatever Works‘ is a letdown. Maybe we can blame the dusty script (and the writers strike), but in the end we are left with the same old, same old." [12]


-50% Rotten Tomatoes rating

[1] - imdb.com

[2] - www.everywoodyallenmovie.com

[3] - wikipedia.com

[4] - http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-06-24/entertainment/0906230347_1_negative-quantum-mechanics-funny

[5] - http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2009/06/16/woody_allen_larry_david_evan_rachel_wood

[6] - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmmakersonfilm/7838767/Woody-Allen-interview-for-Whatever-Works.html

[7] - http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105400872

[8] - http://splitsider.com/2012/09/whatever-works-why-larry-david-is-not-the-new-woody-allen/

[9] - http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2010/jun/26/larry-david-interview

[10] - http://nymag.com/movies/features/56930/

[11] - http://www.vulture.com/2009/06/woody_allen_and_larry_david_on.html

[12] - www.WoodyAllenPages.com