Melinda and Melinda (2004)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2005 David N. Butterworth
*** (out of ****)

Woody Allen's latest concoction, the schizophrenic but mildly diverting "Melinda and Melinda," is beset with the familiar pitfalls-- and emotional pratfalls--of his previous score of "dramadies." At the ripe old age of 69, Allen has settled into a comfortable directorial pattern: simple, unassuming black and white credits; crackling Dixieland jazz on the soundtrack; an all-star cast, alphabetically noted, combining today's white hot talent with yesterday's glowing artisans; and an uneven script peppered with crackers and clunkers alike about a veritable menagerie of neurotic New Yorker-types whose sorry little lives shuffle between tragedy and comedy and back. The setup of "Melinda and Melinda" is that the same story ingredients, essentially, can be offered up as either a comedy or a tragedy depending on the author's approach/viewpoint and what we have here, therefore, are two parallel and only occasionally intersecting tales featuring the same central protagonist, the long-lost Melinda, delightfully played by Radha Mitchell, one story sadder than the other (but still funny), one story funnier than the other (but still sad), both stories rich in the kind of dialogue that only Woody Allen writes. The revelation here is Mitchell (J.M. Barrie's wife in "Finding Neverland"), who drinks and smokes her way through both portions of the film with unflinching resolve, guiding Allen's script with an earnest and intriguing focus. The expository restaurant scenes, featuring an animated Wallace Shawn, come across as stilted and overwritten, but they're mercifully short and don't detract too much from the fine work of the stalwart players, which include Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, and ChloŽ Sevigny. But it's Mitchell's (and Mitchell's) movie all the way, from semi-tragic start to serio-comic finish.

David N. Butterworth

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