MELINDA AND MELINDA
Four New Yorkers - two of them writers of comedy and drama respectively - dine out and discuss the duality of human nature. They invent a situation and proceed to explore the different scenarios that could be made of it, centred on a highly-strung young woman, Melinda (Radha Mitchell). The two different treatments of Melinda's story have one thing in common: they both explore relationships, self-image, loyalty and the neuroses within each character.
Review by Louise Keller:
A Woody Allen film guarantees an intellectual see-saw into emotional territories, and in Melinda and Melinda, Allen explores the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Two New York writers and their wives are philosophising about the difference a point of view can make, as they dine at a busy bistro. They fabricate a scenario about a young woman called Melinda, who unexpectedly arrives at night and interrupts a dinner party. The storyline separates into two parallel strands, each tinged with a different dramatic dynamic. One basks in sunshine, while the other is clouded by grey skies. The only common character is Melinda (Radha Mitchell), an emotionally needy young woman at a pivotal moment in her life. The stories are different, yet there are common elements, including some overlapping dialogue, similar characters and situations that grow from different contexts.
Allen's script bursts with complexity, drawing us into the two worlds of Melinda and Melinda, and letting us perceive her circumstances from both a dramatic and a lighter viewpoint. All the themes we have come to expect from Allen pop up, intersect and collide, bringing us face to face with insecurity, paranoia, jealousy and infidelity, occasionally hinting at the possibility of happiness. From the superficial ("I'm running out of obsequious banter') to the profound ('Living is messy'), Allen has a knack of hitting the nail on the head, so it is easy to relate to Melinda and the two sets of characters she encounters.
Radha Mitchell is exceptional as Melinda, delivering nuance effortlessly. As an emotional wreck ready to jump out of a window she is disturbingly convincing, while equally solid as she delivers comic overtones. As the only character to appear in both the darker and lighter storylines, Mitchell's performance allows the switch from one to the other to be seamless and unforced. Will Ferris and Amanda Peet play the comic version of a married couple, while Chloë Sevigny and Jonny Lee Miller are their dramatic equivalent. Ferris surprisingly appears ill-at-ease most of the time, but I especially warmed to Chiwetel Ejiofor as the wonderfully named pianist Ellis Moonsong, who momentarily becomes music to Melinda's ears.
Melinda and Melinda reminds us there is little to divide comedy from tragedy, and that neither comes exclusively. After all, the tears of sorrow and the tears of joy both come from the same place, and dampen a tissue with equal intensity.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Take as a starting point a lone young woman turning up at a dinner party unexpectedly. Will this lead to comedy or drama? The idea itself is not breathtakingly original: most stories can be told with a humorous take or a dramatic tone. Sometimes the line is so fine the opposites fuse and that's called a great comedy or a great drama. Woody Allen's deconstruction of how two different writers might tackle the challenge is kept aloft by a combination of good writing and strong characterisations.
Radha Mitchell is exceptional as both the unstable and the amusing Melinda, showing great maturity, depth and range. Indeed, all the cast deliver great work, but I have reservations about Will Farrell, who seems to be the Woody Allen substitute player, complete with neuroses and dialogue that fits snugly into Woody Allen's mouth. This overlays his standard Will Farrell comic persona for a rather odd flavoured concoction - something like old gorgonzola and peanut butter.
But the screenplay engages with flashes of the old Woody Allen wit, the sardonic self contradictions of humanity, blurted out in economical one liners. This is some achievement considering Allen is telling two versions of Melinda's story. Sometimes they run parallel, sometimes they overlap, but he weaves many silken threads to bind the characters, and he never condescends by spelling everything out. The subtle touches and the tragi/comic yin/yang make for an effortless and entertaining film, edited for great rhythm; and Allen's traditional good taste in music makes it a joy to listen to.
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MELINDA AND MELINDA (M)
CAST: Will Ferrell, Neil Pepe, Stephaine Roth Haberle, Radha Mitchell, Chloe Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Amanda Peet
PRODUCER: Letty Aronson,
DIRECTOR: Woody Allen
SCRIPT: Woody Allen
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vilmos Zsigmond
EDITOR: Alisa Lepselter
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Santo Loquasto
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 26, 2005