Film review by Alan Steinfeld
Instead of making two mediocre movies, the Wood-man has made one very semi mundane movie. The premise of this (another light-weight Allen psuedo-comedy) is that things can be seen as either a comedic or tragic, depending on the storyteller. So Woody does both. He gives us the humorous side of life and its depressing dark polarity about the same character, Melinda. However, the film is neither a tragedy or comedy, unless the tragedy is that Woody is still making bland meaningless movie of upper Eastside wanna bees with pointless lives, and the comedy is…I cannot think of the comic angle, forgive me. But does Woody know the difference between the two is a better question?
Like many of his films it's starts at a dinner table in a Manhattan bistro with a party of storytellers, or in today’s language screenwriters, philosophically speaking about the nature of humanity. Should we think of life as fundamentally tragic or definitely comic? In what we know of his inner life and in his films Woody’s has been pondering this existential matter throughout his life. The film is essentially Allen argument with himself.
The two writers at the table start to play a story game. Wallace Shawn, a double for Woody’s comic side, debates Larry Pine, the tragedian with a tale of a young neurotic Melinda, as the center point of both trajectories. The plots begin with Melinda; a lost soul, confused, alienated and suicidal. Comically, on the other side, she is not so down. Divorced, whimsical, easier going, Mia Farrowesqe in her lighter days.
Good premise, if it went somewhere. Sorry to say it doesn’t. If Woody was in screenwriting school, he would have been sent back to work on development. (But because he makes movies for himself about himself, nobody is saying, “Hey, Woody, there really isn’t any substance here”.
Oh yes there is Will Farrell, who is poorly underused as the Woody persona stand-in. We see that clearly in the scene where he is totally out of line making fun of Melinda’s new love interest, a game hunting dentist. “Did you shoot all the furniture in this room?” One of his throwaway lines that all should have been thrown away. Will Farrell could have been better utilized in developing his own character, instead imitating the fumbling love-lost Woody Allen of the ’70 and 80’s.
The good thing that I can say about Mr. Allen is that despite his own current stuckness as a director/writer he has always been able to find the most charming women and bring them out. Starting out in his early career with Louise Lasser; then of course the ever charming Dianne Keaton; next, the young Muriel Hemmingway; Mia Farrow already self-made; Barbara Hershey in Hannah and Her Sisters; Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite; and now Woody has done it again. For Melinda and Melinda he has found the new rising star on the Hollywood horizon. Radha Mitchell is the one sparkling exception to the whole dull affair of Melinda. Actually the only reason I am writing this review at all is to mention her. This woman is a jewel in a pile of muck. She is the hottest, brightest and most talented actress I have seen on the scene in years. Charming, stylish and intelligent, she combines archetypal beauty with the sleekness of Faye Dunnaway, the sexiness of Sharon Stone and the sparkiness of Michelle Pfeifer.
Look for her in whatever you can. Despite Woody’s stifling direction, she shines here as both the comic and tragic Melinda. Rahda Mitchell and Radha Mitchell is the only thing to watch in Melinda and Melinda.
Poor Woody might be time to hang it up, if you can’t go beyond tragedy being someone mentally unbalanced and comedy having the same old two-dimensional Woody foil get the girl in the end. Lets go a little deeper and tell us some thing we haven’t heard, like what Radha Mitchell tries to do in every frame of the film. Did I say she is going to be great? She is.