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« In Which We Are Melinda and Also Melinda »

Melinda and Melinda and Woody Allen


Almost is a dirty word in the cinema and it is a dirty word in marriage. Things either work and or they don't, and the man known as Woody Allen is no exception to this rule. His films either tend to be effortless parodies of stories or people we already know (Shadows & Fog, Interiors, Everything You Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask) or disturbingly off-base satires of genres most people neither know or care about (Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Scoop, Anything Else).

In some ways, Melinda and Melinda is closer to disaster than outright success. Sometimes Allen has gotten extraordinary lucky with the right casting - Mira Sorvino, Charlize Theron, Michael Caine - and other times he's completely struck out. When it comes to Melinda and Melinda, Winona Ryder should have played Radha Mitchell's twice-titular role, and Robert Downey Jr. was a far more appropriate choice (and always has been) for Will Ferrell's stumbling neurotic.

Instead, because insurance companies viewed the drug-addled duo as a massive risk, Allen had to settle for Plan B, and both choices were pretty much terrible. Radha Mitchell less so, as her easy sexuality and the fact that the Pitch Black star isn't just the same old face wins her sympathy laughs. Ferrell on the other hand is both completely wrong for the part (he's supposed to be married to Amanda Peet, for fuck's sake!) and an actor about as good as Malcolm of Malcolm in the Middle.

The film's premise is hackneyed and more than a little distracting. Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine are in a restaurant debating whether the essential nature of humanity is comic or tragic. Melinda (and Melinda) stumble through two storylines to discover the answer to this eternal dramatic question.

Even thinking hard, I'm not terribly sure which end of the story was up, and which was down. But hey, Woody's an old man, he forgets things. As a film, Melinda and Melinda is most successful when it's making fun of the seriousness with which Allen approached New York relationships in his early careers. Ostensible comedies when they were made, movies like Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters are far sadder in retrospect, knowing what Mia Farrow, for example, went through. So Woody had to make a new comedy making fun of the old comedy, yet at times pulling back the veil of the diegesis to make us aware that it was still him.

Fortunately, Allen's talents as a writer enables him rise to the occasion here. His plays are always a little distracted, but Melinda and Melinda benefits from this scattershot approach. Chloe Sevigny is absolutely brilliant as Melinda's nemesis in the dramatic part, and the writing is so glorious that you can forgive all the things that are wrong in the production, design, and casting of the film. Sometimes Woody is just more fun when he's only joking around.

Eleanor Morrow is the contributing editor to This Recording. She lives in Manhattan, and she tumbls here.

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