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Overall Rating
2.93

Awesome: 2.27%
Worth A Look31.82%
Average: 29.55%
Pretty Bad: 29.55%
Total Crap: 6.82%

6 reviews, 8 user ratings


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Melinda and Melinda
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by Jay Seaver

"A neat idea, but needs work."
3 stars

I like the idea behind Melinda and Melinda for the same reason I like a lot of things that aren't necessarily popular among movie fans - things like remakes, re-imaginings, and adaptations that diverge from their source material. Stories were originally amorphous things before we evolved the technology to make a permanent record, and different storytellers would tell the same story in different ways. Where Melinda and Melinda falters is that the stories Woody Allen tells using this idea aren't nearly as interesting as the idea itself.

The frame is that a group of Woody Allen New Yorkers meet for dinner, including two successful playwrights. Sy (Wallace Shawn) is a pessimist who writes comedies, while Max (Larry Pine) is a romantic who writes tragedies. Another attendee mentions something told to him by a friend of a friend, about a woman who shows up at a dinner party and throws the hosts' lives into chaos. Given the same basic concept, each expands the story into something from his own ouevre. Both involve Melinda (Radha Mitchell) interrupting a dinner party; both will include the hosts of the party setting Melidna up with a guy; and, of course, Melinda's presence will highlight the cracks in the hosts' marriage.

To avoid confusion and highlight how each "track" (the movie cuts back and forth between Sy's story and Max's) is the work of a different creative voice, Radha Mitchell's Melinda is the only character that the two versions of the story have in common; though each may have characters that parallel each other, both the names and the actors are different. In the "comedy" take, Hobie (Will Ferrell) and Susan (Amanda Peet) are an out-of-work actor and director for whom Melinda is a new neighbor; in the "drama" take, Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) are college classmates of Melinda who take her in.

The biggest problem is that neither story is particularly intriguing in and of itself. It's a moot point, because Woody Allen isn't one for including special features on the DVDs of his movies, but if the eventual DVD were to include options to watch either the "comedy" or "drama" take on its own, there wouldn't be much reason to. The comedy has few really big laughs, and the drama often verges into self-parody (but not to the point where it's very funny). The two segments seem to be built from standard parts, which is somewhat appropriate given how, within the movie's world, Sy and Max are making them up on the fly. Woody Allen, though, isn't, so even if well fleshed-out characters and unique stories are unlikely in this context, I still would have appreciated them.

There is something interested to be said about the structure of comedy versus drama in how the stories play out, though: The comedy half is a more enjoyable watch for most of the movie's running time, and for most of the movie, I found myself wishing Allen would get back to it when he was spending time with the drama - admittedly, part of this is that the dramatic scenes have more of Allen's tendency to name-drop and show how smart and well-read he is (a pet peeve of mine where he's concerned). It kind of fizzles at the end, though, whereas the end of the dramatic half is, if not especially believable, certainly memorable. The comparison suggests that drama's power is basically cumulative, while comedy's is less so. It's not a hard and fast rule, of course, but it feels true.

Allen doesn't appear in this movie, although the cast he assembles is not bad at all. Radha Mitchell gives two fine performances here, as charming in the comic half as she is brittle in the dramatic one. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the supporting stand-out in the dramatic half, charming in spite of his pomposity. Will Ferrell's performance in the comic track has grown on me since I've watched it; while some of the cadence and whining of his dialogue tag him as the guy who basically has the role Woody is too old to play anymore, there's a certain good-natured naivetť that is obviously coming from Ferrell. Most of the rest of the cast is fine enough, but their characters only have half a movie's worth of material, and, again, standard parts.

Perhaps Allen just didn't take the idea far enough - maybe if he'd split the writing and direction chores with another filmmaker, he could have concentrated on making a really good comedy (or drama), while the other filmmaker made the other half. The idea that there are two sides to every story would still have been explored, but maybe there would have been more to the actual stories themselves.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11799&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/17/05 11:48:30
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User Comments

11/04/14 PAUL SHORTT CONTRIVED, UNEVEN AND DULL 1 stars
7/26/06 Agent Sands Every four or five movies, Allen does a truly creative twist on his repetitive formula. 4 stars
7/06/06 Graham Mason Absolutely boring -- I gave up after 35 minutes!! 1 stars
12/27/05 ELI it wasn't good, but it wasn't bad.... It was bleh! :l 3 stars
11/14/05 Jade B I thouht it was boring: it barely raised a laugh in the "comedy" 2 stars
9/26/05 a. kurlovs interesting characters, good acting. cheesy at times, but the cheese tastes good 4 stars
3/30/05 Bruce The last funny movie Allen made was "Play it Again, Sam" 1 stars
3/22/05 mott the drupal woody = best 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Mar-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  26-May-2005




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