Whatever Works

Rated 4.0

Frisky performances and the blithely daring twists in an otherwise conventional romantic-comedy plot all serve to make this seemingly routine Woody Allen production into lively entertainment with some unexpected appeal. The initial premise—cynical old Boris (Larry David) finds romance with youthful, ditzy idealist Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood)—is a little shaky. But then Melodie’s madcap mother (Patricia Clarkson) arrives on the scene, with her befuddled ex-husband (Ed Begley Jr.) not far behind, and the romantic couplings begin to proliferate in a variety of unexpected directions. Clarkson is a brilliant comic delight throughout, and David gets fully inside one of those very Allenesque roles that calls for stinging humor alongside a daffy sort of pathos and irony. Much of Whatever Works may seem almost too familiar, especially to longtime Woody watchers, but that too, I think, becomes part of whatever it is that really works with this little picture’s wry, rueful sense of “the big picture.” Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13