Whatever Works

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Whatever Works
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWoody Allen
Written byWoody Allen
Produced by
CinematographyHarris Savides
Edited byAlisa Lepselter
Distributed bySony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • April 22, 2009 (2009-04-22) (Tribeca)
  • June 19, 2009 (2009-06-19) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[1]
Box office$35.1 million[2]

Whatever Works is a 2009 American comedy film directed and written by Woody Allen and starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean, and Henry Cavill. It was released on June 19, 2009, received mixed reviews and grossed $35 million.


Boris Yelnikoff is a cynical, misanthropic chess teacher and former Columbia quantum mechanics professor. Divorced, he avoids most people, and except for three friends and his students, is patronizing to anyone he meets who doesn't match him intellectually. He also spends much of the film washing his hands, while singing the song, "Happy Birthday".

Boris comes home one night to find Melody, a simpleminded 21-year-old, on his doorstep. He reluctantly helps her, and she soon tells him her story. Melody turns out to have a distinctly Southern background, with fundamentalist parents in Mississippi, from whom she's run away. She asks if she can stay the night, which Boris eventually allows. While staying with Boris, Melody develops a crush on him, despite their age difference, varying cultures and intelligence.

Melody soon finds a job as a dog walker where she meets Perry Singleton, and they arrange a date. When she comes back home afterwards, she explains to Boris, she didn't like Perry because he loved the world too much. Boris realizes that he's in love with her and they soon marry.

A year later, Melody's mother, Marietta, finds Melody, explaining that she and her husband, John, thought Melody 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 persuade Melody to end the marriage. The three go for lunch and meet Boris's friend, Leo. When Marietta goes to use the restroom, a young man, Randy Lee James, inquires about Melody and Marietta slyly decides to recruit Randy, who has fallen in love with Melody at first sight, to end her marriage. Later that evening, Leo, who had taken an interest in Marietta, asks her over for dinner. They spend the evening together, and discover that she's a talented photographer.

Boris explains to the audience that over the next few weeks Marietta has changed and started experimenting with artistic photography, exotic new habits, and starting an open relationship with Leo and his business partner, Morgenstern. Marietta still hates Boris and keeps trying to get Melody to marry Randy. She takes Melody to an outdoor market and "accidentally" runs into Randy, who questions her about her marriage. Melody sees past Marietta's attempt and tells him that her marriage is fine. She warns her mother to stop, but Marietta continues to try. Later, while shopping for clothes, Melody meets Randy in yet another planned encounter and he gets her to admit that her relationship with Boris isn't entirely satisfying. He then invites her to the boat he lives on, and the two kiss and begin an affair.

John arrives at Boris and Melody's home remorseful 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, Howard, and admits what he has known most of his adult life: that he is also gay.

Melody finally tells Boris she's in love with Randy, and Boris is devastated, jumping out the window. He lands on another woman, Helena, breaking her arm and leg. When he visits her in the hospital, Boris asks her if there is anything he can do to make it up to her, Helena says she would like to go to dinner with him.

Finally, Boris hosts a New Year's Eve party, where everyone is in their new relationships: Marietta with Leo and Morgenstern, John is with Howard, Melody with Randy, and finally Boris with Helena. Melody and her parents have completely shed their former Southern conservative mindsets and wholeheartedly adopted the liberal New York City way of life and values. Everyone is now the best of friends, and at midnight they kiss their significant others.

Afterward, it is revealed that only Boris can speak to the audience and he explains that one has to find all the enjoyment one can to find, "Whatever Works".


In addition, Adam Brooks and Lyle Kanouse portray Boris' two other unnamed friends.


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,[3] on April 22, 2009. Sony gave the film a limited US release, beginning June 19, 2009. Maple Pictures released the film in Canada theatrically, and on DVD in October 2009. The film had its UK release on June 25, 2010.[4]


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.[3]

Partly to counter assertions that the film is autobiographical,[4] Allen has pointed 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.[3] According to Allen, the only significant changes to the script involved updating the topical references.[4][5]



On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 50% based on 165 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Based upon a script written in the 1970s, Woody Allen's Whatever Works suffers from a lack of fresh ideas."[6] According to another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, the film has an average score of 45 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[7]

Reflecting the evenly split approval of the critics, Matthew Oshinsky of The Star-Ledger wrote that the film was a good example of Allen's "ability to write great roles for women" and the film is nowhere near his best work, but it has some funny lines and that "it's at least pleasant".[8]


  1. ^ "Whatever Works (2009) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 26 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Whatever Works (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on April 25, 2010. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c "Twilight of the Tummlers". New York magazine. June 1, 2009. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020. Retrieved June 27, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Higginbotham, Adam (June 22, 2010). "Woody Allen interview for Whatever Works". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on June 25, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2010.
  5. ^ "Woody Allen, Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood & Others Discuss 'Whatever Works'". Starpulse Entertainment News. June 16, 2009. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved June 19, 2009.
  6. ^ "Whatever Works Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on August 11, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2010.
  7. ^ "Whatever Works (2009): Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on June 19, 2009. Retrieved June 21, 2009.
  8. ^ Oshinsky, Matthew (2009-06-18). "'Whatever Works' movie review - Woody Allen brings his neuroses home". The Star-Ledger. Archived from the original on 2020-09-22. Retrieved 2020-04-19.

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