How difficult life can be, even for Nobel Prize-winning brains like the protagonist of Whatever Works, a great 2009 movie by the inexhaustible genius of Woody Allen.
During a long marriage with a woman as sexy and intelligent as he is, the man has one of his fearful late-night fits and attempts suicide by jumping out a window.
The attempt fails, and he is left crippled after the fall, divorcing his wife, who has had enough of his unpredictable madness.
Years later, he lives alone in his apartment, facing each day with his inexhaustible cynicism, believing he will never have another romantic relationship.
He spends his time drinking with his artist friends and earning some money by giving chess lessons to insufferable kids.
One night everything changes forever when in the alley behind his house, he finds a young girl begging him to feed her.
Initially annoyed, he tries to chase her away, only to take pity on her misfortune and welcome her to live with him.
The girl is from a small town and is fleeing a strictly religious family, seeking a new life in greater New York.
After many months, he also ends up marrying her, although she cannot change his ideas about people or even soften his uncompromising personality.
At that point, the situation becomes even crazier when the daughter’s mother shows up at their door, fleeing her husband cheating on her with her best friend.
Although hating our cynical scientist protagonist, at first sight, the woman radically changes her life by becoming a photographic artist living with two lovers.
The final piece comes with the arrival of her father, who is even more bigoted and racist, while her daughter instead starts dating a handsome young actor.
That strange happiness we are all looking for
Whatever Works best sums up Woody Allen‘s cherished themes, bringing his comic and romantic poetics to a climax in this 2009 movie.
Love is a joke, but we cannot help it, just as family and religion are traps to which we all, sooner or later, end up returning, even if we try to avoid it.
There is no way to avoid this confrontation, so let us cling to those few things sure to give us some happiness and light in the long dark tunnel of life, which inevitably ends the same way for everyone.
Of course, the cynical and neurotic protagonist is a cinematic alter ego of the director, as he later played numerous times in his own movies, on which I mention the unforgettable Manhattan.
But the difference is that this time walking the streets of New York in his shoes is Larry David, who sublimates with this adorable/hateful character a successful career as a comedy screenwriter.
At times, he enjoys the movie with the audience, breaking through the fourth wall and talking to us while others in the scene are astonished, not understanding what is going on.
Moreover, his voice accompanies us by narrating the passage of time in a story that unfolds as naturally as the seasons, where the characters bloom like flowers in spring and then reach their full potential.
This scientist detachedly analyzes every situation of his friends, the men, and women around him, mercilessly crumbling their deeply held beliefs while unintentionally helping them to be free and genuinely themselves.
Whatever Works does work for me, again and again; having seen it countless times since 2009 to date, I claim without hesitation that it is one of the most intelligent and entertaining movies in cinema history.
Those strange New York folks
However, let’s not just say that the only one who matters in this movie is Larry David because the rest of the cast kicks ass as well.
The young Evan Rachel Wood lights up the scene with her beauty and hilarious naiveté, gleefully standing up to the protagonist’s cynical scientific thinking.
With sparkling vitality and optimism, the silly country girl continually amazes us, spreading her magnificent blue eyes wide, comically and grotesquely.
Toward the middle of the movie, moreover, a sweet and spontaneous relationship is born with the sexy Henry Cavill, whom her mother tries hard to push into the engagement.
Indeed, the climax of the comedy is reached with the girl’s parents, a parody of bigoted and racist America incapable of understanding and listening.
Patricia Clarkson is as neurotic a mother as the protagonist, a church woman with an unstoppable speech pattern who becomes a provocative photo artist with voracious sexual appetites from day to night.
Equally hilarious is father Ed Begley Jr, even more mentally withdrawn than his wife, whose religious obsession we later discover is merely a suit of armor where he hides his latent homosexuality.
These two characters are the ultimate propulsion that gets the story off the ground to masterpiece level, setting a new standard for comedy with its sharp, original writing.
Whatever Works is a comedy that occurs in 2009, in one of Woody Allen‘s most romantic periods, exactly between movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris.
To this day, it remains one of the most masterful and complete works of the brilliant American director and screenwriter, who unfortunately seems to be nearing the end of his career.
We can only hope this is not true, as his entertaining and unique worldview will be sorely missed.