I miss the original Woody Allen. The What’s Up, Tiger Lily, Annie Hall and Sleeper Woody Allen. To me, Allen was at his best when he was making comments about the world, without any effort. When he was so busy trying to make us laugh, that we didn’t feel the sting of social commentary that he was also packaging with his films. Now it seems, Woody Allen is attempting to make us laugh, but without the benefit of wider social commentary, but wrapped up in lives of people we sometimes don’t care about. These days, he seems content making on his own terms, and playing his music when he can.
In his current production, Melinda and Melinda, the funny part of the story isn’t nearly as humorous as the serious and sometimes tragic side. But Allen has said he doesn’t pay attention to critics. He feels that comedy and tragedy are not far from each other, but most of the time it falls heavily on one side for him.
In the comic story, Melinda is a single neighbor who interrupts the bumbling, out-of-work actor Hobie (Will Ferrell) and his indie-filmmaking wife, Susan (Amanda Peet). Susan, whose new feminist flick is menacingly titled The Castration Sonata, is determined to find the right guy for Melinda, until Hobie decides he’s it.
In the tragic version, Melinda is a nutso school chum of wealthy Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and her cheating, out-of-work actor husband, Lee (Jonny Lee Miller), who are entertaining their pal Cassie (a very funny Brooke Smith) when Melinda comes in with a tale of woe: Her doctor husband has left her – she cheated on him – and won custody of their kids, which has led to thoughts of suicide (hers) and murder (his).
That’s a lot to take in, I know.
Will Ferrell mimics Allen’s sexual panic attacks better than anyone I have seen. When Susan sets up Melinda with a hunky dentist (played by Josh Brolin), a jealous Hobie (Ferrell) argues that she just divorced a doctor: “A dentist is the same thing, only oral.” Ferrell delivers the line with all the Woody trimmings. But after Old School, Elf, Anchorman and seven years on Saturday Night Live, Ferrell should have been trusted to put his own spin on the role. The scene in which Hobie finds his wife in bed with a stud and gets giddy, because he’s now clear to woo Melinda, finally lets Ferrell be Ferrell.
Things get tense when Melinda falls for Ellis (played by Chiwetel Ejiofar), a jazz pianist from Harlem who dumps her for Laurel (Sevigny in a touching role). Threats and accusations create a film-noir mood that Woody enhances with the help of great cinematography. Mitchell works wonders as the deranged Melinda embraces her dark side.
Everything on screen happens to the mellow sounds of jazz great Duke Ellington and Stravinsky. And so goes Woody Allen’s Manhattan. The painting he created in the Seventies and touches up here with fresh faces.
Allen is currently doing post work on the thriller Match Point, due in theaters later this year.
© 2005 By Hand Media, Review by Rene Carson