The last Allen American film for many years, Melinda And Melinda presents an interesting premise – can the same story be told as a drama or a comedy? And which has more value? Unfortunately, no answer comes along, and the film plods along and goes almost nowhere. An intellectual experiment, with little heart, it doesn’t stick the landing and ultimately falls flat.
Radha Mitchell stars as Melinda, the woman who is at the heart of two stories told by two men – Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine. Shawn has taken the details of the story and turned in a romantic comedy, where Pine has written a tragedy. The simple details can be taken both ways.
In the comedy, Melinda is a wacky neighbour to Hobie (Will Ferrell) and Susan (Amanda Peet). Hobie becomes smitten but needs to fight through a series of misunderstandings involving Josh Brolin and Steve Carrell.
In the drama, Melinda is the old friend of Laurel (Chloë Sevigny) and Cassie (Brooke Smith), who arrives on their doorstep after a suicide attempt. Johnny Lee Miller and Chiwetel Ejiofor round out the cast.
The problem is that neither story is that dramatic or that funny. Both stories meander, and because they both have the same DNA, they feel forced. Neither is enough for a half a film, and stitching both together isn’t going to help.
Mitchell shines as in the dual role, and it’s a shame that the whole cast didn’t do double duty. It would have made a more interesting point. Sevingny is also pretty great, and it’s always great to see great talents like Peet, Ejiofor and Carrell, no matter how small the roles. It would be a while before Allen returned to the spring of great comedic talents available to him in New York.
Ferrell cops a lot of flack for his performance but that is the problem with this film – you’ve just cut from a dramatic scene where Melinda has confessed to a murder. Now Ferrell is pulling faces? Ferrell is funny – it’s just that the film isn’t. Similarly – the world of murder and betrayal is hampered by the funny faces. Take on their own – Ferrell’s robe, or Sevigny’s betrayal – there’s good moments.
It’s a nice cast, it’s great NY apartment porn with some great actors. But this is a small film, and an arthouse experiment on the nature of story. But in the end it’s not that entertaining – not funny enough, or not tragic enough.
Full cast: Radha Mitchell, Chloë Sevigny, Jonny Lee Miller, Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Wallace Shawn, Josh Brolin, Vinessa Shaw, Steve Carell, Arija Bareikis, Matt Servitto, Zak Orth, Brooke Smith, Daniel Sunjata, Larry Pine, Andy Borowitz