DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)

    Chiwetel Ejiofor as ELLIS
    Will Ferrell as HOBIE
    Johnny Lee Miller as LEE
    Radha Mitchell as MELINDA
    Amanda Peet as SUSAN
    Chloë Sevigny as LAUREL
    Wallace Shawn as SY

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: Fox Searchlight

    Directed by: Woody Allen
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First off, let me say that I really, really appreciate what Woody Allen was trying to do with his most recent film “Melinda and Melinda.” I’ve always been interesting in seeing films that look at the same situation from different angles.

There was this independent film several years back called “Flirt” that had the same basic story told three times by three different directors. The result was three interesting films, even though they weren’t always perfect.

So when I realized that “Melinda and Melinda” was going to be one of those kind of movies, my interest was sufficiently piqued. However, as the movie wore on, I soon saw that there was a problem. And the problem lay with Woody Allen himself.

You see, Woody Allen really doesn’t know how to write a light-hearted romantic comedy. Even his comedies are a very specific Woody Allen style. And while “Annie Hall” was a funny film, it wasn’t funny in the same way as something like “Pretty Woman.”

And unfortunately, Allen needed that style to really pull off “Melinda and Melinda.”

The film starts with two playwrights – one who writes comedies and the other who writes tragedies – talking over dinner. Another dinner guest recounts a story he heard about a mysterious woman from a couple’s past barging in on an important dinner party. The two playwrights argue whether this story would make a good comedy or a good tragedy.

Soon, they start to put the story together from their own unique point of view. The tragic playwright adds strife and angst into the life, including an unfaithful husband and so much baggage to the mystery lady (named Melinda in both stories) that she’s destined for implosion. The comedic playwright throws Will Farrell as the lead as an out-of-work actor whose wife is neglecting him while she tries to fund her film “The Castration Sonata.”

The set-up is very good, and the choice of making the narrators playwrights instead of screenwriters seems very natural considering the movie has a very theatrical feel to it. (And when I say “theatrical,” I don’t mean big-budget Broadway, but rather hole-in-the-wall off-off-off-off Broadway in the basement of a New York Italian restaurant.)

The tragic side of the story is done very effectively. Of course, all of the characters are dreadful people, but that’s the essence of the New Yorker tragedy. In fact, with all the normal folks so troubled, Melinda is a complete mess, and thus the tragedy ensues.

The comic side, however, isn’t really that comic. Sure, Will Ferrell has his moments, and the story isn’t as deeply depressing as its tragic side. But Ferrell plays just another incarnation of Woody Allen from his previous films. The contrast isn’t all that great between the two versions.

Like all Woody Allen films, you’ll see your fair share of name actors in this piece. They all give good performances, although the theatrical-style staging tends to flatten some dialogue. And that dialogue itself has some brilliant Woody Allen moments. But overall, the real flaw is in the storytelling rather than the acting or the premise.

I weighted this rating a bit on the up-side for concept alone, not necessarily for the film itself.

Specifications: Mono. Widescreen (1.85:1). French and Spanish language tracks. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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