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Smart Guy, Dumb Girl Make for Unlikely Roomates in 'Whatever Works'



The latest film from Woody Allen brings the writer-director back to New York City with TV comic actor Larry David as a scowling curmudgeon and Evan Rachel Wood as the bright-eyed young woman who becomes his protégé. Here's a look at Whatever Works.


Meet Boris Yellnikoff. He's certainly not 'Mr. Nice Guy.' A retired physics professor who walks with a limp (because he tried to jump out of a window and only managed to injure his leg), Boris spends most of his time declaring how brilliant he is and complaining about everybody else.

Into his life stumbles young Melody who moved from her rural Southern home to New York City to find fame and fortune, but instead finds herself out on the street. Boris, despite his outward bluster, has a good heart and he takes her in: to save her life and to impart his unquestionable wisdom.

Into his life stumbles young Melody who moved from her rural Southern home to New York City to find fame and fortune, but instead finds herself out on the street. Boris, despite his outward bluster, has a good heart and he takes her in: to save her life and to impart his unquestionable wisdom.


It is not exactly the match made in heaven; but, as the title says, "Whatever Works."

Evan Rachel Wood plays naïve Melody.

"I don't want to sound pompous saying it, but it was really hard to play dumb," Wood says. "I was worried that she was going to be really annoying or really endearing. It was a fine line there that I didn't want to cross, but I think she is sweet."

"She played someone who is much dumber than who she is and I played someone who is much, much smarter, so we were at both ends, " adds Larry David, a co-creator of the hit TV series "Seinfeld" and star of his own TV comedy show "Curb Your Enthusiasm". David is Boris. He says his lines are unmistakably from Woody Allen, but insists that his character is not a surrogate for the writer-director.

"I never considered for a second that I would be playing him," David says. "I know it is the part that people would normally see him play, but I never considered that I would 'play him' …nor would he want me to play him and it just wasn't an issue at all.

"This is not a part that I could have played," notes director Woody Allen.

Allen says he originally wrote the story decades ago with Zero Mostel in mind to play Boris, but when Mostel passed away (in 1977), Allen put the script away and never considered casting himself in the role.

"Even if I was younger I could not have played this part because Larry is able to do this kind of sardonic, sarcastic, vitriolic humor and get away with it," explains Allen. "Groucho Marx had this. If I was to do that, I wouldn't be as graceful at it and you would think that I was nasty. If I was insulting people and proclaiming my own genius and saying that people were cretins you would not like me, but certain people can get away with it and he is one that can."

Another thing that David as Boris gets away with is speaking directly to the movie audience: a device that Allen likes to use.

"Primarily I feel that I'm a writer who only directs so my stuff is not mangled on the screen; and I always feel the narrative voice," Allen explains. "I was a stand-up comic who always spoke to the audience and very often in my films I either talk to the audience, have a character talk to the audience or have a narrator because I just feel the presence of the author all the time …because I'm a writer."

The cast of Whatever Works features Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. as Melody's parents who also travel to New York and have life-changing experiences. It is the fortieth film directed by Woody Allen since "Take the Money and Run" in 1969 and, as usual, he raids his home music library for a soundtrack that ranges from Groucho Marx to Dixieland jazz.

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