DVD Release Date:  October 27, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  June 26, 2009 (wide)
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  92 min.
Director:  Woody Allen
Actors:  Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean, Conleth Hill

Whatever Works, the title of writer/director Woody Allen's latest comedy, sums up the philosophy of the film's main character, Boris Yellnikoff, and of Allen himself. The filmmaker, who famously left Mia Farrow and married her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, has lived out a no-judgments view of human nature that is reflected in his film scripts and characters.

In Whatever Works, Boris Yellnikoff sneers at most everyone. A gray-haired know-it-all, Boris rants with gusto, and, in one of the film's more audacious gambles, speaks directly to audience, acknowledging that we're captive to the theories and ideas that have informed his life.

Boris has strong opinions about any number of subjects, and he lays out several of them in the film's opening minutes, as he launches a diatribe at a group of friends who eat and socialize with the crotchety character. Allen's screenplay has Boris address the role of religion straightaway, and straightaway we know that Boris and Allen have drawn lazy, ill-informed conclusions about the Christian faith—all the better for creating straw men and knocking them down. Jesus was a good guy, but his teachings are based on the fallacious notion that people are fundamentally decent. (Has Boris, or Allen, ever bothered to read the Gospels?) People need to live according to "whatever works," as long as no one gets hurt.

"I'm not a likable guy," he explains up front, and "this is not a feel-good movie." Turns out Boris is a divorced hypochondriac who, upon learning of his wife's unfaithfulness, leapt out of their apartment window in an attempted suicide but had his fall broken by a canopy. Saddled with a limp but nothing worse, he soldiers on, railing against the "family values morons" and "the gun morons."

Boris is as surprised as his friends when Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a much younger woman raised by a strict Christian mother, develops a crush on Boris. She endures his put-downs with a smile and eventually gets him to agree to marry her. Their surprising courtship-full of several laugh-out-loud moments-comprises the first half of Whatever Works, as we see Boris soften under Melody's influence.

The film pivots into cruel stereotyping halfway through the story, when Melody's mother, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), tracks her down. Marietta's Christian beliefs are put to the test by Boris, who exasperates her at every turn, but she soon gives up the fight altogether. The source of her moral collapse is one of Boris' younger friends, an art aficionado who sees merit in Marietta's photography and launches her into a libidinous artist's life, complete with a ménage à trois.

As if that weren't enough, Marietta rejects the pleas of John, the man who abandoned her and Melody for another woman, when he shows up to beg forgiveness and ask her back into his life. Her cool reaction sends John to a nearby bar, where he confesses lifelong homosexual feelings to a gay customer. The two men are shown as a happy couple in the film's final scene.

Happiness is the goal of life, according to Whatever Works, but the film's live-and-let-live attitude has no place for characters who are Christians, political conservatives or anyone who dares to combine the two. But in the film's worldview, there's hope yet for such characters, as soon as they embrace a libertine lifestyle that's contrary to Scripture. The humorous tone of the film celebrates the characters' decisions and sneers at anyone who would dare to question their lifestyle choices.