“Did you shoot all your furniture?”
Woody Allen’s comedy film, Melinda and Melinda begins in a New York restaurant as two playwrights discuss their craft. The playwrights (Wallace Shawn & Larry Pine) discuss the merits of comedy vs. tragedy, and then to illustrate their argument, they both create stories–one comic, one tragic–involving a character named Melinda (Radha Mitchell). The film flashes back and forth between the playwrights’ discussion, and the two ‘Melinda’ stories.
In both of the Melinda stories, the Melinda character arrives in town and disrupts the lives of a married couple. In one version, Melinda is the old school friend of Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) who’s married to Lee (Jonny Lee Miller), an egotistical actor. In the other version, Melinda is the downstairs neighbour of successful filmmaker Susan (Amanda Peet), and her loser, unemployed husband Hobie (Will Ferrell). In both stories, the element of adultery appears–along with other crossover elements–such as a single dentist, safaris, suicide, dinner parties, and even the racetrack. And these elements are all used for different purposes as both stories unfold. For example, the dentist in one story is a sweet, lonely widower, but in the other story, he’s a suave playboy who owns an ostentatious mansion in the Hamptons.
Melinda is the catalyst for the drama that unfolds in both stories, and Radha Mitchell plays these two roles brilliantly. As one Melinda, she’s a pathetic, neurotic, desperate mess, and as the other she’s quiet, low key and rather sweet. The script swings deftly back and forth between the restaurant conversation, and the two Melinda stories, and under Woody Allen’s skilled direction, the film doesn’t miss a beat. While two stories–one comic-and one tragic–are presented, essentially it’s all great entertainment. Even the tragic story somehow maintains a dark comic edge–thanks mainly to Mitchell’s performance as the hard-edged intensely desperate Melinda. This Woody Allen fan recommends the clever, refreshing and witty Melinda and Melinda highly.