Melinda and Melinda

Melinda and Melinda

2005, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, Chloë Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Brooke Smith, Amanda Peet, Wallace Shawn, Larry Pine.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 1, 2005

I’ll freely admit to a time in my life when I was weak-kneed for Woody Allen films. His mid-Seventies great works – peopled with Upper West Side wanks who suffered from logorrhea, overeducation, and an exceedingly broad definition of monogamy – were like pornography for me, a young Southern hick itching for a blueprint for the way New York sophisticates lived and loved. No more. These days, Allen’s pictures are more like snuff films, in which the viewer must suffer both gifted actors committing screen hara-kiri and a once-brilliant filmmaker soldiering on with his long, bullheaded decline. The tendency for critics is to evaluate these late-era efforts with a "better-than, less-than" approach; I’ve been guilty of it, too, but let’s shuck it for now. Stand alone, Melinda and Melinda is a rotten movie. There’s little concession to the 30 years that have passed since Annie Hall and Manhattan, to society’s evolution in economics, speech, or music. (Allen’s go-to swing soundtrack no longer triggers warm feelings – only irritation at an aged dog reverting, always, to old tricks.) Try not to snicker as a thirtysomething shouts straight-faced, "That’s a baseless canard!" or as another character refers to "lovemaking talk." Go on – I dare you. Allen’s written himself somewhat of an escape hatch – these archaic-sounding characters are actually the invention of two playwrights (played by Shawn and Pine), who are older and more closely resemble Allen, but that explanation doesn’t make the film any more bearable. The playwrights bookend the film and appear occasionally throughout. At a bistro dinner, they argue the merits of comedy versus tragedy, then challenge each other to tell a comic or tragic version of the same premise: In both, an unhinged woman named Melinda (played by Mitchell in both stories) crashes a dinner party and proceeds to wreak havoc on everyone around her. It’s a terrific premise, but Allen botches it – there are few laughs in the comedic version, and the tragic version mostly just irritates. In the comedic tale, Ferrell (in the Allen surrogate role) plays a married, out-of-work actor who falls for Melinda. Although Ferrell does have several rather sweet moments, his sincere, dumb-lug brand of humor jars with the self-conscious Allen persona he’s forced to embody. The comic thread is a disappointment, but at least it’s not the effrontery that is the tragic version. That one requires a superhuman tolerance for women who wear neon signs over their heads that scream "save me"; I, a mere mortal, couldn’t stomach the pill-popping, suicidal, "tragic" Melinda, or her coterie of Park Avenue princesses and tortured artistes. The constant throughout is Mitchell (High Art), a lovely actress whose natural vulnerability has been reduced by Allen to nervous tics, her pain conveyed baldly and badly by fluttery hands and endless cigarettes. Mitchell, too, is given a brief respite in the comedic version; she and Ferrell share a genuinely (if gently) funny and heartfelt scene. As one of the playwrights opines, "Tragedy confronts, comedy escapes"; if you mangle that principle, it could apply to Melinda and Melinda. The tragedy portions confront the audience with awful proof of just how tedious the filmmaker has become, while the comedic version offers fleeting moments of escape and Melinda and Melinda’s only glimpses of how real people live and love.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Woody Allen Films
Wonder Wheel
Woody Allen's ode to Coney Island

Steve Davis, Dec. 8, 2017

Café Society
A lesser Woody Allen film, but not without its pleasures

Marjorie Baumgarten, July 29, 2016

More by Kimberley Jones
Gloria Bell
Julianne Moore excels (as always) in this funny, poignant character study

March 22, 2019

Trump’s Twitter Library, a Ferris Wheel of Cheese, and More From the Wide, Weird World of SXSW
Trump’s Twitter Library, a Ferris Wheel of Cheese, and More From the Wide, Weird World of SXSW
Festival-adjacent events abound!

March 8, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Melinda and Melinda, Woody Allen, Will Ferrell, Radha Mitchell, Chloë Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Brooke Smith, Amanda Peet, Wallace Shawn, Larry Pine

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle