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Melinda and Melinda

  Melinda and Melinda
"Frank the Tank? 'Old School'? 'Blue, you're my boy!? None of this is ringing a bell?"

© 2005, Fox Searchlight
All Rights Reserved

Soon to be 70 years-old Woody Allen's new film "Melinda and Melinda" (IMDb listing) is a step above his last film "Anything Else," but it's still a failure compared to masterpieces like "Annie Hall," "Hannah and her Sisters" and "Bananas."

Naturally set in New York, the film starts off at a dinner table in a modish bistro where two playwrights -- one a fan of tragedy and the other an admirer of comedy -- hear the story of a woman named Melinda. This story is never revealed to the audience verbatim, rather, the film charts the playwrights' two different scenarios: one tragic, one comic.

Both stories begin at a dinner party, which is interrupted by the arrival of Melinda. In the tragic scenario, Melinda is a divorced, suicidal neurotic turning up at the house of her college friends, including Park Avenue trust-fund princess Laurel (Chloe Sevigny), and Laurel's habitually-unemployed-actor husband, Lee (Jonny Lee Miller). In the comic scenario, Melinda is the downstairs neighbor of an ambitious director named Susan (Amanda Peet), and her actor-husband Hobie (Will Ferrell), who is failing in both his career and his marriage.

Melinda is played brilliantly by Radha Mitchell in both scenarios. She smoothly swings between the two characters. Playing the typical neurotic pseudo-Woody Allen character is Will Ferrell, who -- true-to-form -- is slapstick. Nevertheless, he delivers most of the few witty lines in the film. Still, perhaps due to his hefty physique, he reminds the viewer of his roles in "Old School" and "Elf" rather than the archetypal Woody Allen protagonist.

Although the film is not satisfactory within Woody Allen standards, it is an interesting and enjoyable one. The cinematography is skilled and the transitions between the two perspectives -- the comic and tragic -- are unforced and flowing. However, some of the dialogue feels contrived and not all of the characters are developed, particularly Lee (Miller) and Susan (Peet). Also, the clever dialogue is reminiscent of other Allen films, and this feels somewhat redundant.

The New York City that Allen portrays in "Melinda and Melinda" is rather unlike the hectic one of today. Yet, this divergence gives the beauty and the appeal of fiction that Allen pioneers. Unfortunately, "Melinda and Melinda" lacks the satirical scripts of earlier Allen films and offers little innovation or edge.

Filmfodder Grade: C+



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