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Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
Melinda & Melinda

 

General Audiences:  B

Nothing objectionable. No nudity or strong language.  If youíre not a Woody Allen fan

youíll probably object to the pseudo-intellectual drivel and unsympathetic characters. 

Family Audiences: C

Although rated PG-13 this is strictly an adult film with adult themes of infidelity,

intimacy and jealousy. Keep the teenagers at home.  

 

As a big fan of Woody Allenís early film career, I approach his recent films with both hope and trepidation. The maestro of film comedy has been losing his touch over the last 10 years and hasnít produced a film that engages the viewer or generates more than one laugh.  Woody Allen fans know what Iím talking about. Fortunately, Allenís latest offering reminds us why we liked him in the first place.

Allenís story begins one rainy evening in a trendy bistro in New York City where a dinner conversation between four sophisticated urbanites drifts toward a debate about whether the essence of life is more tragic or more comic in the human experience.

One man relates the true story of a dinner party interrupted by a troubled young woman. Two other men at the table listening to the story are writers, and each takes a turn spinning a different outcome for a fictional version of this troubled young woman. They decide to call her Melinda and her character navigates a comic storyline in one version and a tragic storyline in another.

Each story begins with a dinner party and its own cast of characters. The setting and characters for the two stories is very similar: one unhappy married couple living in an upscale loft furnished by the interior design firm of Money Unlimited; husband an unhappy, unemployed actor; wife unhappy and unfaithful; Melinda (played expertly by Australian-born actress Radha Mitchell) is the unexpected dinner guest in both stories interacting with each couple and other single characters in a slightly different way. And, of course, the couples and their single friends act very different from their counterparts.

Will Ferrell is hilarious as the unemployed actor in the comic Melinda version. In one scene he finds his wife in bed with another man, and his facial gyrations alone are enough to produce laughs. There are brief moments when he is not funny, and those only occur when this surrogate for Woody Allen relies solely on Allení s uniquely sarcastic and somewhat dated dialog to get a laugh.    

Johnny Lee Miller plays Lee, Woody Allenís serious alter ego in the tragic Melinda version. Unfortunately, Allenís pretentious, neurotic mumbo-jumbo dialog proves to be too much of a burden for Miller and he bores us to death trying to be profound.

This is where a younger Allen could step in and make you laugh at the tragic side of life. Instead, youíll be reaching for a remote control to switch back to the comic version of Melindaís life.    

Flipping back and forth between the two versions is a somewhat schizophrenic experience and this sometimes causes some confusion. Showcasing both stories in the same flattering autumnal color hues doesnít help either. One method of distinguishing the parallel universes is noting that, in the tragic version, the camera doesnít move very much and that may explain why I liked the funny half of the film.

Despite lackluster performances from the supporting roles in this film, Radha Mitchell as Melinda skillfully leads the ensemble cast to the bittersweet end in both the dramatic and comedic versions of the same story. And, she accomplishes this feat without Woody Allen starring in the film.   

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