Whatever Works



Tepid adult comedy is no Allen masterpiece.
  • Review Date: June 17, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Despite the fact that the movie deals with subjects like infidelity, a dismal worldview, and even suicide attempts, there’s also a lot of hope and humor.


Heated arguments, with yelling. A man jumps out of a window, and, on his second attempt, lands on a person.


Actual scenes are fairly chaste, but scenarios aren’t: A conservative married woman arrives in New York and transforms herself into an artist involved in a happy threesome (three people are shown under covers, but no body parts are revealed). Her estranged husband takes up with a man. Another married character cheats on her husband. Open discussions about sex. Some suggestive photographs are shown.


Insults aplenty, such as “stupid,” “cracker,” and “imbecile.” Also “goddamn.”


Pellegrino labels.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some drinking at a bar; a little bit of smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this tepid Woody Allen comedy tackles mature themes like threesomes, homosexual relationships, and infidelity, though there's little actual nudity or explicit sexual content. The main character tries to commit suicide (played lightly) but isn't successful. The language tends toward the insulting at times, but it isn't overly coarse; expect a little bit of drinking and smoking as well. The humor will most likely appeal to grown-ups or precocious older teens -- don't expect this to be on many kids' must-see list.

What's the story?

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David), a former physicist with suicidal tendencies whose attempt to jump out the window fails miserably, finds his world's axis tilted when he meets and improbably marries a very young, nubile optimist, Melody St. Anne Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood). She's a recent transplant from the South and a willing student of Yellnikoff's world view; after initially resisting, he grudgingly falls for her charms. Though he never quite seems certain it'll last, Melody's mother's (Patricia Clarkson) arrival at their doorstep hastens the end. Spurned by her husband (Ed Begley Jr.), she's primed for change and thinks that Melody, whom she's convinced married too hastily, ought to be, too.

Is it any good?


Sadly, WHATEVER WORKS doesn't work. Though Allen's exquisite turns of phrase still amuse, the film feels dated, of a time when threesomes and May-December affairs still shocked (not surprisingly, the script is one that was initially written decades ago). David, supremely entertaining in Curb Your Enthusiasm, is wrong here, even if he is funny. Allen's lost and brittle male protagonists need vulnerability for the story to work -- think Alvy in Annie Hall -- and vulnerable David most certainly isn't. Plus, there's little to no chemistry between him and Wood (they barely hug).

But here's the biggest rub: Allen's movies are always of their place -- New York in the lion's share of his canon and, more recently, London and Barcelona. But the New York we see here seems robbed of energy and inspiration ... kind of like the movie itself.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what the story says about relationships. Why does Melody seek the company of a much older man -- and vice versa? Is there anything wrong with a younger person taking up with a much older partner? How do movies usually portray that kind of relationship? 

  • Fans of Woody Allen can also discuss how this movie compares to his other films. What do his movies tend to have in common?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 19, 2009
DVD release date:October 27, 2009
Cast:Evan Rachel Wood, Larry David, Patricia Clarkson
Director:Woody Allen
Studio:Sony Pictures Classics
Run time:92 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 13 year old Written bycolten97 October 11, 2012

Woody has done it again

The critics have missed on this one. Don't believe the negative reviews. It's the funniest one from Woody since maybe Deconstructing Harry. Everything works. From the very original script, combining Allen's bleak view of life with effervescent farcical plot line, to uniformly fine performances from Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, and the rest of the cast. Comedic sparks fly non-stop. Not just light chuckles here and there at Woody's witticisms, but loud all-out laughter. The scenes with Ed Begley's and Patricia Clarkson's transformations of 'classic text-book right-wing material' are especially hilarious. And in the end I came out from the theater, thinking that in a paradoxical way it was one of the most life-affirming pictures from the master.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 11 years old June 12, 2011

Whatever Works

Even though it kind of does have lack of character development, it is still a good and hysterical film.
Adult Written bybrobson July 6, 2009

A Close One!

Barely stopped my 14 year old daughter from going. We had to return to the theater we'd dropped her off at. Thanks common sense media.!
What other families should know
Too much sex


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