Is the glass half empty or half full? That's one way of looking at "Melinda and Melinda" (IMDb listing), the new Woody Allen film that frames the life of a woman as both a comedy and a tragedy.
When two playwrights sit down over dinner, they argue over whether life should be viewed with laughter or sadness. To prove their point, the story of Melinda (Rahda Mitchell) is brought to the table -- she's a woman who arrives unannounced at two different dinner parties in two different genres.
In the tragic role, Melinda shows up unexpectedly at the home of some old friends. She's seeking help after a failed marriage, a failed love affair and a suicide attempt. Her past haunts her as she struggles to build a new life and start a new relationship.
The comedy role introduces Melinda as she knocks on the door of her neighbors, in the midst of a dinner party, after taking 28 sleeping pills. With their help, she survives this suicide attempt and becomes the object of affection for her married neighbor Hobie (Will Ferrell).
Both plots place Melinda at the center as she disrupts the life of each person she encounters, setting off a series of events -- comic or tragic -- that all stem from her knock on the door. As Melinda's life unfolds, the narrators suggest that tragedy "confronts" while comedy "escapes." But is it possible that the two go hand in hand if the comedic actions are sad and tragic at the same time?
Allen's classic style is true to form and his picturesque portrayal of New York City is right on par with his past films. He seamlessly weaves together two sides of the same story and two sets of characters.
The ensemble cast has several recognizable actors (Chloe Sevigny, Josh Brolin, Amanda Peet to name a few), but the actors do their best to not reference past roles in their performances. Ferrell stands out with brilliant comedic timing in a semi-serious role. Mitchell ("Finding Neverland") is also excellent, capturing split personalities in the two roles.
At different points, the cast of "Melinda and Melinda" seems to struggle with a script that is sometimes dull and slow. The film is not Allen's best, and the expectation that it could be puts pressure on the film even before the opening credits finish rolling.
Despite this, the film still manages to present an accurate display of life and the ways that people live it. "Melinda and Melinda" leaves audiences questioning their own outlook on life and whether spinning it as a comedy or a tragedy makes a difference. One thing is for sure: Allen never misses a beat when dissecting the human character and all the weaknesses easily found within it.
Filmfodder Grade: B-