There’s a brief sequence somewhere along the middle of Woody Allen’s Whatever Works that is just about the most perfect scene imaginable in a film comedy. In it, a professor of philosophy at Columbia (played by the Irish actor Conleth Hill, flawlessly impersonating a New Yorker) and a Southern-fried matron named Marietta (Patricia Clarkson, in the ripest, most delectable role she has had onscreen to date) have gotten together at his place for drinks. Earlier, the auburn-curled, hot pink-clad, Mississippi-accented Marietta, bursting into the movie like a parody of William Inge archetypes, has announced that, in response to her husband’s infidelity, “I turned to Jesus in a deeper way than I ever have!” She clutches, as proof, a copy of the Holy Bible in one hand and a glass of darkly stained hard liquor in the other. Marietta might caricature a certain flower of Southern womanhood, yet as Allen conceives it and as Clarkson portrays her, the send-up is absolutely spot-on. At a subsequent lunch with her errant daughter Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), Marietta preaches her deeply held beliefs (“Abortion is murder!”) yet manages to magnetize the salt-and-pepper lion-maned Leo (Hill) all the same. He admires her breasts, her long legs, and acting on the notion that “a woman is easier to get in bed if she’s a member of the National Rifle Association,” he asks her out.