Film — Melinda and Melinda (R)

Melinda and Melinda (R)

by Amy Diaz

Woody Allen, having long ago run out of entertaining stories or amusing characters, finally gives up trying to tell a coherent story and instead lets a nameless group of narrators riff on a few lame old hobbyhorses about marital infidelity, career failure and general weenieness in the limp and painful Melinda and Melinda.

At this point, why even make new movies, Woody? Do some special-edition DVDs of the good films you made 100 million years ago (starting with Purple Rose of Cairo and moving backwards). Spend some time making your director’s commentary. Then, if you have to make a new movie, make sure it’s at least as good as Mighty Aphrodite or Small Time Crooks. No more of this paint-by-numbers New-Yorkers-and-their-relationships nonsense.

The movie begins with four turtleneck-and-tweed-wearing members of the intellgentsia sitting in a Paris bistro discussing the meaning of comedy and tragedy. Two of the klatch are playwrights; one of comedies, the other of serious human dramas. Whose world view best matches reality? They test it out on a story of which we in the audience only hear a few details — a woman named Melinda unexpectedly interrupts a dinner party. Then they develop the story in different ways.

In one, Melinda (Radha Mitchell) is the boozy, troubled friend of a group of girls who have known each other since their well-to-do private-school girlhoods. Melinda bursts in on Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) giving a dinner party for a couple who are longtime friends and another couple that includes a director that Lee, an out-of-work actor, is desperately hoping will hire him. Melinda stays with Laurel, adding stress to their already stressful marriage (Laurel is unhappy; Lee is a philandering drunk). Melinda is working off the pain of an unhappy marriage, an even unhappier affair and a brush with jail and an institution. Eventually, she meets Ellis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a piano player who seems to be the perfect man for her until it appears that maybe he is also the perfect man for Laurel.

In the second story of Melinda, she bursts in on a dinner party thrown by Susan (Amanda Peet) and Hobie (Will Ferrell), who are attempting to get a financer for Susan’s latest movie. Melinda is the couple’s downstairs neighbor who has just taken a bottle of sleeping pills over some romantic distress. Again, recently divorced, this less gloomy, more plucky Melinda is attempting to rebuild her life. Perhaps it’s her desperate-but-not-too-desperate situation or her cute little blond bob, but Hobie finds Melinda charming. The more he gets to know her, the more he doesn’t want to help her find a boyfriend in somebody else, nor however does he particularly want to hurt his wife, with whom he appears to have no love, lust or even mutual tolerance.

How the two Melindas and the people around them deal with the issues she brings into their lives is what forms the tragedy or comedy of her tale, as told by the playwrights. It’s her story that acts as the hand pushing around the familiar chess pieces of “New York” clichés — both character and situations that represent the Woody Allen version of Manhattan.

Woody Allen has been making essentially the same movie for the last 25 years. In some respects, so what? You could argue that Steven Spielberg also has been making the same movie for the last 25 years. Ditto any 10-year period of Alfred Hitchcock’s life. What makes Allen’s particularly tiring, however, is the movie’s seeming insistence that we take it seriously. These characters are smart, listen to them use the big words, now extrapolate from this some larger meaning of life on earth — Allen’s movies command these things of us but have long since stopped delivering the entertainment or intellectual heft to make us tolerate such blow-hard-ness.

- Amy Diaz

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH