The character sketches and thematic outlines themselves remain springy, though expect tut-tutting at Whatever Works' thirty-years-creepier-than-Manhattan mentor/lover relationship, between stand-in schlemiel Borris (Larry David) and Southern-fried runaway Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood). The movie is half self-justification, half apology, as David's misanthrope physicist — his habit of referring to himself as "Nobel-nominated" gets at the arrogance not entirely obscured by self-parody — is so cowed by Melodie's naïve sexuality (and preteen sleepover wardrobe) that he inadvertently (honestly!) snows her into a state of awe and nursemaidenhood.
What really doesn't work, though, is the leftover dinner-party banter — especially the insular, smugly angry typing of red-state mores — with which Allen establishes David's crank credentials. (A bit of the writer's well-read absurdism, and Catskills emcee persistence, differentiate from David's Curb Your Enthusiasm grouch.) Well, that, and the direct-address summations lifted from Annie Hall, minus their cloak of metaphor, and the uneven performances permitted the normally laser-focused Patricia Clarkson and easygoing Ed Begley, Jr. Yup: Whatever Works is a movie made by somebody with dinner reservations.
Opens June 19