Melinda and Melinda

I‘ve said it before and I’ll say a hundred time more, after “Deconstructing Harry”, Woody Allen’s output lost what little flare it had previously been running on. After his personal life became tabloid fodder, he began to distance himself from his creations, removing the once idiosyncratic flourishes and insightful neuroses for tepid existentialism.

Using the pensive dinner banter of four writers, a tragedian (Larry Pine) and comedic (Wallace Shawn) writer use the simple premise of a woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell) to tell two diverging stories within their respective fields of expertise. Filling out the cast of the comedic plotline are Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet while Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Sevigny and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in the tragedy.

Even with an idea so simple, the story is sloppy in its overall execution, feeling altogether insubstantial. Gone is the trademark wit as is the absurdity that has saved Allen where the writing has been lacking. Yes there the lines uttered appear sufficient grandiose, displaying a grasp of english but it never connects on more than a surface level.

Debating the nature of comedy and tragedy requires a subtle balancing of opposites, whilst simultaneously integrating them into one unified vision but with so little to make either entirely distinct, Allen allows the viewer to essentially decide whether or not they are what they prepose to be. This lack of an overall boundary between stories leads to a sharing of ideas incapable of appearing more than stale imagery used elsewhere, recycled by a once visionary director. “Interiors” was a famous misstep and foray into dramatic territory for him, a fact that reminded Allan he is better suited to poignantly absurd material more than anything else, but more than even trying to attempt to mock this past endeavor, he seems to be embracing it, if only slightly. Ultimately the crux of the argument will invariably establish that both are self-evident in everyday life yet with being so glaringly obvious from the beginning, the resolution lacks the power necessary to bring the film to a worthwhile conclusion.

Both Mitchell and Ferrell try to don the classic Woody persona in his absence at different intervals but neither is entirely comfortable with such a proposition, skirting around what comedy lies in the neurotic and often unlikeable material given to them. Rebecca Hall’s character in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” does the very same but the writing is better tailored to her own personality and done with a more subdued elegance, a fact lacking here.
Even the remaining cast members, despite being more than capable in other projects never shine or illustrate the potential they each hold, ebbing through on what sense of character they can gleam, pointing to a lack of overall direction for the project.

“Life has a malicious way of dealing with great potential” as Miller dryly says half way through, with the irony of that statement being the most powerful image of the entire film.

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