A director is forced to work with his ex-wife, who left him for the boss of the studio bankrolling his new film. But the night before the first day of shooting, he develops a case of psychosomatic blindness.
Over a meal in a French restaurant, Sy poses a conundrum to his fellow diners: Is the essence of life comic or tragic? For the sake of argument, he tells a story, which the others then embellish to illustrate their takes on life. The story starts as follows: A young Manhattan couple, Park Avenue princess Laurel and tippling actor Lee, throw a dinner party to impress Lee's would-be producer when their long-lost friend Melinda appears at their front door, bedraggled and woebegone. In the tragic version of what happens next, the beautiful intruder is a disturbed woman who got bored with her Midwestern doctor-husband and dumped him for a photographer. Her husband took the children away and she spiraled into a suicidal depression that landed her straight-jacketed in a mental ward. In the comic version, Melinda is childless and a downstairs neighbor to the dinner hosts, who are ambitious Indy filmmaker Susan and under-employed actor Hobie. Back and forth the stories go, contrasting the ... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Winona Ryder was originally cast as Melinda, but was forced to drop out because no agency would insure her due to her famous arrest for shoplifting. Woody Allen stated in the book "Conversations with Woody Allen" that he wanted to cast Ryder, but he couldn't get a bonding on her. See more »
At the beginning of the movie it is poring with rain and yet not a single car that drives by on the street has its windshield wipers on See more »
You're the piano player.
Not any more. I'm on a break. A mysterious stranger has, uh, temporarily taken over, and I must say she plays beautifully. Hey, are your eyes misting over?
The song... it's meaningful to me. It was playing the night I met someone.
So, are they tears of sorrow or tears of joy?
Well, aren't they the same tears?
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A bunch of guys are discussing philosophy in a bar. Two writers with opposed views on life argue about it: is life tragic or comic? To illustrate their theories, they imagine a story of a woman. The comic writer presents the optimistic, bright tale of Melinda (Radha Mitchell), who just accepts life as it goes by. The tragic writer gives us a destructive, lonesome and troubled Melinda, who deals with depression and suicide. Around the two Melindas we can find a variety of interesting characters: a sincere and kind of shy actor (Will Ferrell) and his ambitious wife (Amanda Peet) in the comic tale; an intellectual woman (Chloe Sevigny) and the gentle pianist (Chiwetel Ejiofor)she falls in love with.
Woody's recent efforts weren't much impressive (yet me and most of critics here liked them), so everyone was a bit skeptical about his next film. Skeptical because it wasn't a proper comedy and because Woody didn't appear in it. Well, after having seen it, I must say this is the best film the man has directed in the last ten years or so (no, I haven't seen Deconstructing Harry). Not only it is wittier, but more transcendental as well. It feels more personal, and its message is clearer and warmer. Woody teaches us a lesson. Let's not get too excited, though. The film itself is not breathtakingly impressive, but it truly delivers, and is overall rewarding. It features plenty of allenisms and classic Woody situations. Precisely one of the correct complaints about the movie is the feeling of déja vu. The film's premise is original (it might even remind of Crimes and Misdemeanors, but believe me: it's pretty different) and very well executed, but the setting and characters all seem a bit familiar.
Nothing wrong with that, though. There's plenty of characters and they're all very well crafted by the director: the protagonist, Melinda, is both believable in its two sides (tragic and comic). Radha Mitchell is excellent in both parts, switching from comedy to drama smoothly. Will Ferrell is great, and I mean great, portraying the allenistic neurotic - he doesn't merely imitate Woody. Ejiofor and Sevigny are also very adequate in their roles. Overall, none of the characters seems forced; they're all believable and honest. I'd like to comment on the cinematography by veteran Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter) in his first collaboration with Allen: the photography is by no means revolutionary, but the way the shots were composed was always interesting (a rewatch will help to reinforce this observation).
Woody's direction is masterful as always. I'm fascinated at how he alternates and mixes both stories. The pace and editing are mostly effective, as is the usual jazzy score. The dialogues presented are human and dynamic. This is a throughoutly enjoyable, pleasant exercise on love, infidelity, marriage, life, and so on, which while not being specially mesmerizing nor powerful, is sure enlightening: life is short. We shouldn't see it in a pessimistic way, because that doesn't lead anywhere, nor in an exaggeratedly optimistic way. We just got to accept it and enjoy it, because it can end... like that.
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