Whatever Works

This article is about the Woody Allen film. For the Miami Vice episode, see List of Miami Vice episodes § Season 2: 1985–1986.
Whatever Works

Promotional film poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Letty Aronson
Stephen Tenenbaum
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Ed Begley, Jr.
Patricia Clarkson
Larry David
Conleth Hill
Michael McKean
Evan Rachel Wood
Cinematography Harris Savides
Edited by Alisa Lepselter
Gravier Productions
Wild Bunch
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • June 19, 2009 (2009-06-19) (U.S.)
  • June 25, 2010 (2010-06-25) (UK)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $35,085,646[1]

Whatever Works is a 2009 American comedy film directed and written by Woody Allen, starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley, Jr., Michael McKean, and Henry Cavill.


Boris Yelnikoff (Larry David) is a misanthropic chess teacher and former Columbia professor. Divorced, he eschews human contact except for his friends (Michael McKean, Adam Brooks, Lyle Kanouse) and students, criticizing everyone he meets for not matching him intellectually. He spends much of the film washing his hands, all the while singing the "Happy Birthday" song—an attempt to gauge the proper length of time for the process.

Boris comes home one night to find Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a simpleminded 21-year-old, lying on his doorstep. He reluctantly lets her in for a meal and soon she tells him her story. She turns out to be of a distinctly southern background, having been born to fundamentalist parents in Mississippi and ran away from them. She asks if she can stay the night, which Boris eventually allows, and she stays with him while she's looking for a job. Melodie develops a crush on Boris despite their age difference and their varying cultures and intelligence.

Melodie finds a job as a dog walker while still living with Boris. Out on the job, she meets Perry (John Gallagher, Jr.) and they arrange a date. When she comes back home, she explains to Boris that she didn't like Perry because he loved everything in the world too much. Boris realizes that he loves her and they get married.

After a year passes, her mother Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) finds Melodie, explaining that she and her husband John (Ed Begley, Jr.) thought Melodie had been kidnapped. She goes on to tell her that John left her and sold their house after John lost money in the stock market. She meets Boris and is disappointed with him, so she tries to convince Melodie to end her marriage. The three go for lunch at a restaurant and meet Boris' friend, Leo (Conleth Hill). As Marietta goes to use the restroom, Randy James (Henry Cavill) inquires about Melodie. Marietta slyly decides to recruit him to end Melodie's marriage. Later that evening, Leo, who had taken an interest in Marietta, asks her over for dinner. They spend the evening together, and they both discover that she is a wonderful photographer and he even makes plans to contract her professionally.

Boris explains to the audience that the next few weeks, Marietta changed and started experimenting in artistic photography, exotic new habits, and having an open relationship with Leo and his business partner, Morgenstern (Olek Krupa). Marietta still hates Boris and continues to arrange for Melodie to marry Randy. She takes her to an outdoor craft market and "accidentally" runs into Randy, who questions her about her marriage. Melodie initially sees past Marietta's attempt and tells him that her marriage is fine. She warns her mother to stop her attempt at once, but Marietta keeps trying. Later shopping for clothes, Melodie meets Randy in another planned encounter with her and gets her to admit that her relationship with Boris is not entirely satisfying. He invites her to the boat he lives on, and the two end up kissing and beginning an affair.

John arrives at Boris and Melodie's home full of regret and hopes to get the family back together. They all go to Marietta's photography exhibit opening together, and he sees how his ex-wife has changed since she moved to New York. Distraught, he retreats to a bar, drinking away his misery. While there, he meets a recently divorced gay man named Howard (Christopher Evan Welch), and realizes that he is also gay.

Melodie tells Boris she is in love with Randy. Boris is disheartened by this and jumps out a window again, but this time lands on Helena (Jessica Hecht) breaking her arm and leg. As he visits her in the hospital, he asks her if there is anything he can do to make up with her, and Helena says she would like to go to dinner with Boris.

Finally, Boris hosts a New Year's Eve party, at which everyone is seen in their new relationships: Marietta with Leo and Morgenstern, John with Howard, Melodie with Randy, and finally Boris with Helena. Melodie and her parents had, each one separately, completely shed their former southern conservative mindsets and wholeheartedly adopted the liberal New York way of life and values. (John tells that his former membership in the National Rifle Association had been but a sublimation of his repressed homosexuality.) They are now all the best of friends, and at midnight heralding a new year they kiss. Afterwards Boris is revealed to be the only one who is able to communicate with the audience, and explains directly to them that one has to find all the enjoyment he can, to find "whatever works".



On February 2, 2009, Variety reported that Sony Pictures Classics had purchased U.S. distribution rights to Whatever Works. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City,[2] on April 22, 2009. Sony gave the film a limited US release on June 19, 2009. Maple Pictures released the film in Canada theatrically and released the DVD in October 2009. The film had its UK release on June 25, 2010.[3]


The film was shot in New York City, marking Allen's return to his native city after shooting four films in Europe. David was hesitant to take the role, pointing out to Allen that his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm was improvisation, but Allen encouraged him to take the role anyway.[2]

Partly to counter assertions that the film is autobiographical,[3] Allen points out that the script was written in the early 1970s, with Zero Mostel in mind for Boris; it was shelved after the actor's death in 1977. Thirty years later, Allen revisited the script in an attempt to create a film before a potential threat of a Screen Actors Guild strike.[2] According to Allen, the only significant changes to the script involved updating the topical references.[3][4]



The film received mixed or average reviews from critics.[5] Rotten Tomatoes reported that 49% of critics gave positive reviews based on 160 reviews with an average score of 5.4/10.[6] According to another review aggretator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, the film has an average score of 45% based on 30 reviews.[5]

Upon the film's US release, A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote:[7]

Patricia Clarkson and Evan Rachel Wood, as a mother out of Tennessee Williams and a daughter out of The Dukes of Hazzard, bring not only feminine sparkle but also acting discipline to what feels, all too often, like a run-through of an unfinished play. The scenes, shot by the excellent Harris Savides, Gus Van Sant’s longtime director of photography, have a static, blocky feel. Their deliberate pacing and the decorous rhythms of the dialogue might charitably be described as classical, given the picture’s occasional evocation of a Broadway-to-Hollywood adaptation from the 1930s. A less generous word might be sloppy, given the near-total absence of the kind of Lubitschean verve of which Mr. Allen, when he’s on his comic game, is capable. To be sure there is a measure of vigor in Larry David’s performance in the central role of existential kvetcher, a formerly eminent physicist named Boris Yelnikoff. Mr. David does a lot of shouting and some antic gesticulating, and even throws himself out a window. But frantic action is not the same as acting, and there is barely a moment in Whatever Works in which Mr. David rises even to the level of credible impersonation.

See also


  1. "Whatever Works (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-11-11.
  2. 1 2 3 "Twilight of the Tummlers]". New York magazine. June 1, 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  3. 1 2 3 Higginbotham, Adam (22 June 2010). "Woody Allen interview for Whatever Works". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  4. "Woody Allen, Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood & Others Discuss 'Whatever Works'". Starpulse Entertainment News. 2009-06-16. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
  5. 1 2 "Whatever Works (2009): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
  6. "Whatever Works Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  7. Scott, A. O. (June 19, 2009). "Kvetch Your Enthusiasm". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
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