In my opinion, Woody Allen has had three distinctive periods in his filmmaking career where he wrote certain kinds of stories. He started off writing zanier comedies such as Bananas and Sleeper. He then started to make romance a central part of his story and this led to a series of romantic comedies such as Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters. The romance then became very depressing or serious which led to films such as Match Point (see Interiors for an earlier example). Whatever Works feels like a time-warp that goes backwards through those films. The protagonist is a man named Boris (Larry David) who fails at, well pretty much everything that has to do with life. When his marriage fails he even attempts suicide, and he messes up that just as well. While recovering from his depression, Boris (who has adopted the Woody Allen role as the "awkward jewish guy") then attempts to hit on a young rich girl (Evan Rachel Wood),who is more of a happy person (filling the Diane Keaton/Louise Lasser/Mia Farrow role of Allen's films). The relationship moves between an awkward age gap with sexual tension to more of a friendship, so does this sound like any Woody Allen film you know?
I'd imagine that if this film came around the time of Annie Hall in 1977, it would've been a success. Boris even talks to the audience while he is complaining but this schtick has already been going on in Woody Allen films for the longest time. In short, everything old is not new again. The jokes are all recycled or too simple to bother being funny, and half the time you are wondering when Wood will drop her Southern accent or will David's character get it together and realize he is dating someone young enough to be his granddaughter. There is also nothing remotely "New York" about this movie, especially considering that this is Allen's return to the locale after four years in Europe. Overall, this is a very annoying film with a few good supporting performances (mainly from Ed Begley Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as Wood's parents), but the only other good thing about Whatever Works is that it reminds you of when Allen used to be really good at comedy.