Woody Allen’s films are pretty polarizing — you are either from that side of the world that loves them or you don’t care for his brand of humor. If I had to choose, I’d probably put myself in the latter camp, although I’d probably defer my decision until I had an opportunity to see more of his films. I’ve been told that most of the greats I haven’t seen. Anyhow, something drew me to Melinda and Melinda. The fact that Will Ferrell was in the movie and he wasn’t playing one of those over the top goofball characters pushed me over the edge. I’m glad I took a chance on this one.
Melinda and Melinda is a film about two writers who are discussing their philosophical approaches to film while out eating dinner with friends. One feels that comedy is the more genuine human emotion (Wallace Shawn) while the other (Larry Pine) feels that tragedy is more stirring. In what plays out as somewhat of an experiment, working from the same plot, both writers proceed to build the story out — with one the story a comedic slant and the other giving it much more tragic feel. The results are pretty funny and actually pretty engaging — especially compared to Allen’s other films, which always struck me as being heavy on humor and witty (and wordy) dialogue, but not much in the way of character development. This is not a stark change from other films, but during this film, I was very curious to find out how each story was resolved. One interesting note: different casts are used to carry out each story with the exception of the title role which is played in both stories by Radha Mitchell.
Initially I was a bit let down by Will Ferrell’s role. You could almost see Woody’s reflection on the mirrors of some shots as Ferrell’s character seems to be doing his best Woody Allen imitation through most of the film. However, as the story moves forward, Ferrell has funniest lines and reactions in the movie. I still want to see him in a serious role (a la Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine) but, as I found myself laughing out loud watching the DVD, I’m glad he didn’t choose this film to do it.
As with any Woody Allen film, the cast is a solid crew of faces you’ll have seen before. Steve Carell even makes a small appearance. The dialogue is a bit heavy on the ‘posh-new-yorker-talkin-about-my-entertainment-industry-job’ side, but the overall story is easy to follow and rewards the viewer who pays close attention to subtle differences in how each writer plays out his story.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film and after seeing it, I immediately put Match Point in the queue. (I might become a fan of Woody Allen’s films yet.) This film is smart, funny and intriguing. If the idea of watching a tragedy and a comedy alternate turns and play out on the same screen entices you in any way, check this one out.