MELINDA AND MELINDA (Woody Allen, 2004)
Using a framing device that evokes MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, Woody Allen’s latest, MELINDA AND MELINDA, flips between comic and tragic versions of the same story. In both Radha Mitchell stars as Melinda, a damaged woman trying to pull her life together. She interrupts a dinner party that sets in motion either a painful or pleasant chain of events.
MELINDA AND MELINDA finds Allen again struggling to decide if comedy or drama is more important. The film feels like a summary work, as if he is reevaluating his career twenty-five years after exploring similar territory in STARDUST MEMORIES. Allen may have inadvertently answered his question because MELINDA AND MELINDA’S comic portions are more accomplished than the dramatic sequences. As Woody’s on-screen surrogates, Will Ferrell tops Jonny Lee Miller. Ferrell feels at home with Allen’s rhythms yet still makes the character his own. Although the writing isn’t Allen’s sharpest, MELINDA AND MELINDA is his best since SWEET AND LOWDOWN. Ferrell’s ability to make his dialogue fresh enlivens the film. Mitchell bears an uncanny resemblance to Mia Farrow here, again underlining how Allen is processing his body of work, but she too is capable of distinguishing herself and juggling two interpretations of one character. DIRTY PRETTY THINGS’ Chiwetel Ejiofor also gives a notable performance as a piano player Melinda dates. Some of Allen’s recent work seems flecked with bitterness. That’s present here as well, but ultimately MELINDA AND MELINDA comes to the realization that our lives aren’t about what happen to us but how we perceive those events.
(Review first aired on the April 12, 2005 NOW PLAYING)