Where's the Story?
Woody Allen’s filmmaking style never changes, which makes it easy when deciding whether or not to see his films. Those who don’t like Allen’s work know they should avoid his pictures, and those who enjoy it know what to expect. In Melinda and Melinda, Allen attempts to look at two couples’ personal struggles with morality, jealousy and -- ultimately -- who they are.
Max (Larry Pine) and Sy (Wallace Shawn), two writers, are having dinner with their wives when the men begin to argue over a story. Sy believes it’s a romantic comedy, while his friend Max, sees it as a tragedy. The movie then unfolds with parallel stories using the same scenario and central character, Melinda (Radha Mitchell), but with different twists.
In Sy’s version, Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) and Laurel (Chloë Sevigny) are hosting a dinner party and have invited the producer of a play and his wife. They hope the director will cast Lee in his next play, as his unemployment has left the couple short on money. Suddenly, Laurel’s old friend Melinda, who was expected two months earlier and never showed up, barges into the dinner party. She’s arrived disheveled, broke, desperate, divorced and unstable from a prior suicide attempt because she lost her children and went to jail.
In Wallace’s version, Al (Neil Pepe) and Susan (Amanda Peet) have invited an investor and his wife for dinner, hoping he will finance Susan’s next film. During the dinner Melinda, a complete stranger who lives in the building, shows up. She’s presentable, seems quite lonely, and is immediately invited to dine with the group.
The story then moves into marital struggles, infidelities, work problems and new relationships among the couples. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) comes on scene as the lucky man who is wanted by two women.
While the idea of taking one story and seeing it through the eyes of two different writers is intriguing, the execution of that idea clearly does not work in this film. Several problems arise here. Allen is famous for his obsequious banter that goes on and on and back and forth in his movies. The same singsong, low tone/high tone dialogue gets very annoying, and none of the characters have their own voice. They all sound like Woody Allen.
In addition, Allen tends to tell his stories through the dialogue, so you know what’s going to happen before you see it. This makes watching the movie more like reading a book, and it does a great disservice to the actors, who never see a complete script in a Woody Allen film, only their pages before a scene is shot. So in Melinda and Melinda the talents of these actors are wasted. They’re like paper dolls trying to bring a vision to life.
Will Ferrell (Elf) does offer some laughs in his role as the manic and anxious actor who finds Melinda more appealing than his princess bride. Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland) does a good job playing the two Melindas, but there’s no story here. It’s more like viewing a reality TV show about six people struggling with their dysfunctional lives.
To reference his film, Allen uses this quote (from author Angela Carter): “Comedy is tragedy that happened to other people.” Personally, I find nothing funny about other people’s tragedies or about Melinda and Melinda.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated “PG-13” for adult situations involving sexuality, and some substance material.)
Read Diana Saenger’s reviews of classic films at http://classicfilm.about.com.