Jonny Lee Miller
As a full length feature commissioned for New York City tourist department, Melinda and Melinda works beautifully – the cinematography is strong, inviting and dramatic. As a full length feature film, designed to end Allen’s losing streak, it tries with a truly novel idea, but doesn’t quite succeed in pulling it off.
It begins with playwrights at a New York restaurant discussing a basic plot and how it can be made comic or tragic depending on how the storyline is approached – themes that run through all of Allen’s films, although never together until now. This time Allen tries to juxtapose the two themes but doesn’t quite manage to marry them leaving the film feeling disjointed and the audience bewildered as they try to follow the two plots running in parallel.
Part of the problem for this film is the lack of commitment to either theme, leaving the result somewhat bland – Allen fails to make the comedy really comic or the tragedy really tragic. In the end, the film becomes confused and unfocussed as the storyline becomes increasingly smothered in a desperate struggle to deliver the all-pervasive message that comedy and tragedy aren’t that different.
There are positives. Allen fans won’t be disappointed – his usual style and dialogue are delivered. As with his other films, familiar themes of morality, neurosis, jealously and romance are prevalent throughout.
Thankfully Allen himself is absent from proceedings. Now in his seventies, he has clearly accepted that casting himself alongside a young woman has become wholly risible.
The real salvation comes in the form of Radha Mitchell in the dual roles of Melinda. Last seen in Finding Neverland, she is most successful in the comic role as the single neighbour of a curious couple. The wife, Susan, is working on a plan to find the right guy for Melinda whilst the out of work actor husband, Hobie, secretly decides that he might just be that guy. In the tragic version, Melinda plays a suicidal and murderous doctor’s wife whose husband has left her due to her infidelity.
As with all Allen films there is a huge and gushing supporting cast including Will Ferrell, funny as the actor besotted by Melinda and insecure in his own manhood.
The film’s premise is good, but the experiment doesn’t pay off for Allen. An accomplished film maker he is – but this is not an especially accomplished film.