Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2006)
2004ís Melinda and Melinda may mark the end of an era. For years, most of Woody Allenís movies concentrated on Manhattan and folks like him and his friends. However, since these never make any money, financing finally evaporated and drove him overseas for support. That led to 2005ís Match Point, a movie set in England.
This seems to be a very good change. Match Point received consistently positive reviews and earned a fortune compared to other Allen movies. It took in more than $20 million, which made it the first Allen flick in almost 20 years to pass that mark. On the other hand, Melinda only earned about $3 million and wasnít viewed charitably by most critics.
Did it deserve better? Nope. Melinda never works.
Melinda starts in a Manhattan restaurant where two playwrights debate whether tragedy or comedy more closely connect with the essence of life. One of their tablemates (Neil Pepe) tells them of a true story he knows. Max (Larry Pine) envisions it as a tragedy, while Sy (Wallace Shawn) sees it as a comedy.
From there we watch the two versions. Both tell the same basic story. An unstable woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell) enters the lives of normal folks. In the tragic take, Melinda comes to visit an old friend named Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and her husband Lee (Jonny Lee Miller), while the comedy has her intrude on folks (Amanda Peet and Will Ferrell) in her apartment building. We learn more about Melindaís troubles as we follow her impact on others.
Hereís the main problem with Melinda: the comedic parts arenít funny, and the tragic scenes arenít dramatic. Frankly, itís tough to tell the difference between the two. Allen uses dark classical music for the tragic side but tosses in light jazz for the comic parts. Thatís the main way you can differentiate the two, especially since the tragic half plays things in such an over the top manner. It enters self-parody territory with its absurdly overwrought moments. How can I take a movie seriously when it includes lines like ďI was determined not to ask you what you saw when you looked right through to my soul when we metĒ?
Donít expect actual amusement from the comedy. The material doesnít seem very different from the tragedy Ė itís all how the actors play it. Ferrell gets stuck in the role as the Woody surrogate, so he develops mannerisms and little more. The comedic actors go for broad and wacky, while the others act like they all want to kill themselves at any moment. Melinda isnít the only depressed member of this group, or at least it seems that way via the sad performances.
At least the comedic side shows some consciousness of the charactersí pretensions. The others are absurdly self-obsessed and too eager to advertise their ďsophisticatedĒ tastes. Ferrell and crew manage to poke fun at those things, though I donít think Allenís heart is in it. These people are too close to home for him, so while heíll jab at them a little, usually he portrays them as ideals.
Melinda boasts an intriguing concept but it fails to exploit it well. It provides an alternate Rashomon in a way. The premise is the best thing about it, though I think it mightíve worked better if the two versions were more identical. Each includes different characters and settings; sure, they share a lot, but there are still many variations. Iíd have preferred to see the comedy/tragedy contrast with more similar tales.
Decent premise aside, Melinda and Melinda is a real clunker. It features some of Woody Allenís worst tendencies and few of his charms. The film makes for a painful 99 minutes of viewing.