Melinda and Melinda
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Woody Allen
with Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Chloe Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Jonny Lee Miller, Wallace Shawn, Larry Pine, Brooke Smith, Josh Brolin, Vinessa Shaw, Steve Carell
release US 18.Mar.05,
UK 25.Mar.05
04/US 1h39

Comedy or tragedy: Ferrell and Mitchell

sevigny ejiofor peet

48th London Film Festival
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Melinda and Melinda Woody Allen redeems himself a bit with this inventive and insightful look at relationships, although it suffers the flaws of his more recent films--namely an uneven tone and wildly varying acting styles.

We begin in a cafe where two writers (Shawn and Pine) are discussing the merits of comedy versus tragedy. To test their theories, they start with the same scenario, about a young woman named Melinda (Mitchell) visiting her friends in New York, and spin tales in their preferred style. Only Melinda is common to both stories, and in each one she interacts with various couples and singles, forms romantic liaisons and makes horrible discoveries about herself and others.

Trying to explain the two plots here is pointless, but Allen cleverly weaves them in and out of each other, making sure we get the point that all comedy is reliant on tragedy, and vice versa. And this is by far the most wonderful thing about his film, letting us examine our lives and see the good in the bad, and of course the bad in the good.

Alas, Allen seems to direct with a hands-off style that lets actors do whatever they want with his trademark dialog. Some play it like they're impersonating Allen, which is extremely odd. Ferrell suffers most in this respect--he's quite good, but since we keep seeing Allen he's never very believable. Miller and Peet are only slightly less awkward, while Sevigny manages to bring her character to life at several key moments and Mitchell is strikingly good in the most demanding role. But by far the best performance is by Ejiofor, who takes Allen's words and turns them into someone remarkably and specifically un-Allenlike. And he makes it look effortless, which it so obviously isn't since he's the only one who's been able to do it in the past five Woody Allen movies!

Fortunately, the uneven tone doesn't obscure Allen's brilliant exploration of the issues involved. This is a dense, clever and provocative script, engaging and fascinating in its approach and nicely observing that we cry the very same tears for both sadness and joy.

cert 12 adult themes, language 22.Sep.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall