Melinda & Melinda movie review, Woody Allen, Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Chloe Sevigny, Wallace Shawn. Review by Rob Blackwelder ©SPLICEDwire
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A scene from 'Melinda & Melinda'
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"Melinda & Melinda"
3 stars
99 minutes | Rated: PG-13
LIMITED: Wednesday, March 23, 2005
EXPANDS: Friday, April 1, 2005
EXPANDS: Friday, April 22, 2005
Written & directed by Woody Allen

Starring Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Chjwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Amanda Peet, Chloe Sevigny, Wallace Shawn, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Josh Brolin, Zak Orth, Steve Carell, Andy Borowitz, Brooke Smith, Neil Pepe, Larry Pine, Matt Servitto, Arija Bareikis, Shalom Harlow, Vinessa Shaw, David Aaron Baker, Christina Kirk, Daniel Sunjata, Geoffrey Nauffts, Sabrina Lloyd

Will Ferrell (2003)

  • Woody Allen
  • Radha Mitchell
  • Will Ferrell
  • Chjwetel Ejiofor
  • Jonny Lee Miller
  • Amanda Peet
  • Chloe Sevigny
  • Wallace Shawn
  • Josh Brolin
  • Zak Orth
  • Steve Carell
  • Brooke Smith
  • Shalom Harlow
  • Vinessa Shaw

  •  LINKS for this film
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    Playing tragedy against comedy in parallel plots, "Melinda and Melinda" is classic Woody Allen -- but with a twist

    By Rob Blackwelder

    Woody Allen hit upon a plucky, imaginative concept for "Melinda and Melinda": The same story, of a woman at loose ends, imagined as both comedy and tragedy by two playwrights (Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine) arguing in a Manhattan cafe whether life is inherently funny or inherently sad.

    While these bookend scenes are uncharacteristically clunky and deliberate, full of exposition designed to set the fictional stage, the two parallel stories are pure Woody Allen at his ironic, neurotic, romantic, poignant and peculiar best -- and they're deftly woven together to complement and play off each other.

    The underappreciated Radha Mitchell (she played wives in "Finding Neverland," "Phone Booth" and "Man on Fire") may now get the recognition she deserves with her remarkable performances in the dual title role as a flighty, suicidal beauty who arrives in each story by crashing a dinner party.

    One Melinda is a new downstairs neighbor who knocks on the Upper East Side door of wannabe filmmaker Amanda Peet (who flirts with rich men hoping they'll fund her independent movie "The Castration Sonata") and her husband, anxious out-of-work actor Will Ferrell (the picture's requisite Woody surrogate, although with unexpected nuance Ferrell makes the role his own). Pratfalling into the dining room, Melinda announces she's just taken two dozen sleeping pills. The comical chaos that ensues leads to friendships, infidelities and unrequited love, all orbiting around Melinda -- although she's largely unaware of the upheaval she's wrought.

    The other Melinda is a despondent, unstable mother who has lost her income, her house and custody of her kids. Desperate for a place to stay, she arrives unannounced and disheveled at the trendy loft of an old boarding school chum, Park Avenue princess Chloe Sevingy ("Boys Don't Cry," "Shattered Glass"). Sevingy's philandering husband is a failed actor as well (Jonny Lee Miller, "Trainspotting"), but the these characters have little else in common with Peet and Ferrell, save that Melinda's arrival creates tension in their marriage and introduces an unpredictable element into their social circle.

    In both stories Melinda's friends try to help her put her life back together, with some ups and downs, and varying degrees of devotion and success -- all the makings of great laughs, serious soul-searching and other cross-pollinating thematic elements. Of course, being a Woody Allen film, the drama is often funnier than the farce, and vice versa.

    Allen creates touchstone moments that bleed between the two tales, and edits them together in a way that enhances the film's underlying premise that, depending on atmosphere and happenstance, tragedy and comedy are interchangeable. But this is not an exercise in cinematic self-awareness. There's no Charlie Kaufman-like intersection of the two realities. "Melinda and Melinda" simply returns to the two playwrights for its inferences, at which points the film always stumbles a little. Even though these fleeting cut-aways are the gatekeepers of the plot, the mouthfuls of dialogue regurgitated by Shawn and Pine read like an afterthought designed to make sure the audience gets the point.

    The impeccable casts in the two narratives do overcome the mechanical nature of these wrap-arounds, and Woody Allen's gift for bringing out something unique in actors who have often been pigeonholed before he hires them is very much in evidence here.

    But it's the flawless parallel performances of Radha Mitchell that give the picture its soul. She maintains a nugget of sorrow in silly Melinda's improving disposition (she's a fine comedienne) and a modicum of humor in unhinged Melinda's self-destructive volatility (she delivers more than one moving yet mordant monologue of anguished self-examination). More importantly though, she understands that the character is the same person at her core, shaped by the circumstances of life, and brings to bear that deeper self in both.

    Coming so early in the year, this performance will likely be forgotten by the time Oscar season rolls around, but Mitchell is going on my Best Actress list right now.

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