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Overall Rating

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 Stephen Groenewegen

"Two for the price of one"
3 stars

Woody Allen’s latest is a trifle, but also an improvement. His last two movies - Anything Else and Hollywood Ending - were not even released in Australian cinemas. You have to go back to 2001’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which wasn’t much to write about. If you’re keeping score, Melinda and Melinda is the 34th feature Allen has directed. It’s about on par with 2000’s uneven but enjoyable Small Time Crooks.

Four friends are supping in New York, having a typical Allen-style debate about the differing roles of comedy and tragedy in drama and life. Someone begins an anecdote about a young woman who gatecrashes a dinner party. Max (Larry Pine) embellishes the story and relates it as a tragedy; fellow writer Sy (Wallace Shawn) explains how the same elements could produce a satisfying comedy.

Melinda and Melinda cuts between both renderings of the story. “Tragic” Melinda (Radha Mitchell) is an unkempt, pill-popping, alcoholic, chain-smoking wreck. Divorced by her husband after she had a disastrous affair, the court refuses to grant her custody of her kids, and she’s just come out of a mental institution. She turns up on the Soho doorstep of well-to-do school friend Laurel (Chlöe Sevigny) and her peevish actor husband Lee (Jonny Lee Miller).

Meanwhile, “comedy” Melinda (also Mitchell) is a sunny, daffy blonde in a floral dress and a neat bob. She interrupts movie director Susan (Amanda Peet) and her nervous actor-husband Hobie (Will Ferrell). They have invited a business tycoon to dinner at their Upper East Side apartment, hoping he will finance Susan’s sophomore independent feature, “The Castration Sonata”. In both stories, romantic complications ensue when Laurel and Susan each try to find their Melinda a mate.

Australian actress Radha Mitchell has been quietly building her Hollywood career with supporting turns opposite the likes of Colin Farrell (Phone Booth), Denzel Washington (Man on Fire) and Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland). She fits right into the Allen milieu, delivering a pleasingly delineated and relatively low-key performance. Any number of actresses could have played this to the theatrical hilt, but Mitchell is content to show us two sides of the same person rather than show off two completely different characters.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) is charming as the tragic Melinda’s too-good-to-be-true pianist date, and Chlöe Sevigny is radiant as a Park Ave princess. Jonny Lee Miller and Amanda Peet are left without much to do and fade into the background. Will Ferrell is a fine Allen surrogate, playing the obligatory nervous artist who delivers alternately self-deprecating and malicious jokes. Only Wallace Shawn appears uncomfortable. He’s stuck explaining the narrative conceit of the film in the contrived opening and closing scenes.

What Melinda and Melinda lacks is a real sense of fun. Allen doesn’t throw us into the movie or risk disorienting us by using the same cast (besides Mitchell) in both stories. The central idea is a winner, but he plays his hand too early, explaining it to us in the first scene and even spelling out the theme: the fine line between comedy and tragedy. To hammer the point home, Allen deliberately keeps the look of the movie consistent. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond draws on the same autumnal and earth-toned palette that’s featured in every Allen movie of late, so tragic and comic soon blur. Too often, Melinda feels like an exercise designed solely to prove an innocuous academic point.

In the late 1970s, Allen jumped from free-spirited romantic comedy (Annie Hall) to mirthless angst-laden drama in the style of Ingmar Bergman (Interiors) then back to comedy (Manhattan). Since then, Allen has arguably softened - his comedy isn’t as sharp, but nor is his drama as morose or laboured. A stronger contrasting style might have given Melinda the jolt it needs. Certainly, the opening credits hold promise. Doom-and-gloom classical Stravinsky segues into the jaunty jazz of Duke Ellington, and I took the unexpected clash of styles as a cue for how Allen would mix his comedy and tragedy.

But Allen seems to lose heart partway through, not even bothering to see tragic Melinda’s tale through to the finish. The movie begins with two storytellers - Sy and Max - but it plays like the work of only one (unmistakably Allen). The potential for a fresh and original Allen movie soon fades, and we’re left with two standard Woody Allen movies for the price of one.

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originally posted: 03/22/05 07:57:11
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User Comments

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
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  18-Mar-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2005



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