Melinda and Melinda (2004) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality and some substance material
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Chloe Sevigne, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Brooke Smith, Josh Brolin, Steve Carell, Wallace Shawn, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Larry Pine, Matt Servito, Arija Bareikis, Zak Orth, Shalom Harlow, David Aaron Baker, Christina Kirk, Vinessa Shaw
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published April 13, 2005

Watching latter-day Woody Allen (Hollywood Ending, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion) movies fills me with strong feelings of ambivalence, as I search for that spark of genius he once held with confidence, only to receive mere bubbles of inspiration to occasionally rise above the mediocrity.  Melinda and Melinda is another in a growing line of films by Allen to frustrate his followers, but on the other hand, it is also a step up from his previous effort, Anything Else, so at least there is still a glimmer of hope he might head back in the right direction. 

Over dinner, a group of friends have a stimulating discussion on whether or not life is a comedy or a tragedy -- it's all in the way you look at it.  Two men of differing opinions tell the story of Melinda, one as a tragedy and one as a comedy.  It's a difficult plot to explain, but I'll try to give the gist.  Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland, Man on Fire) plays Melinda in both scenarios, but all of the other players are different, with those in the tragedy showing more dramatic delivery than those in the comedy.  The two stories aren't the same, although they do have many moments of convergence, but the tragedy plays a bit darker than the comedy, although there is an underlying sadness in both tales.

One of the more peculiar things about Melinda and Melinda is that the two stories aren't all that different in terms of the events and the tone.  The tragedy is almost as funny as the comedy, while the comedy is almost as sad as the tragedy.  It is an interesting idea for a film, tangentially reminiscent of Sliding Doors, but in order to be effective, my feeling is that there should have been a much more distinctive line drawn between the two stories.  It would have also helped if the all of the events within each story had been identical, with the only differences being in the way things play out, funny or tragic.  By having stories with two mostly different occurrences, the point on comedy and tragedy being a matter of perspective is lost, rendering the main premise of the film muted at best. 

As has been the custom in many Woody Allen films, many of the actors deliver their lines in very nebbish, Allen-like fashion, especially Will Ferrell, who plays one of Melinda's potential romantic interests in the comedy portion.  Also, the interests shared by most of the characters are also things that Allen has personal knowledge of, such as old films, classic jazz, opera, and literature.  Granted, the characters run in sophisticated circles, but they are also relatively young to have Allen's refined tastes.  I suppose what I'm trying to say is that Allen may be a bit out of touch with the younger generation's lingo and customs, despite having a wife of that age.  Perhaps it would be best to set his films in an older era, although the scant budget at which he currently operates may be prohibitive to the attempt.

Still, the premise is there, which goes to show that Allen is at least trying to make something different.  Will Allen's life be looked at as a comedy or a tragedy?  Certainly, like the tale of Melinda, many of Woody's more publicized events have been assessed by the public in both ways at the same time.  However, given the lack of once mighty prowess he possessed early on, there is no comedy in seeing him struggle so much to make worthwhile films anymore. 

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo