Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 18, 2005 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
Woody Allen is no stranger to stories about sophisticated romance and marital infidelity and his new film Melinda and Melinda turns out to be his most engaging since Small Time Crooks.
The director works hard to modulate his diverse acting talent and overall mood, but excels in his richly provocative script that begins in a small Chinese bistro.
There are two writers (Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine) talking about how good comedy is relative to tragedy. Their ideas are put into practice through the situation of a young woman named Melinda, played by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire). Melinda is visiting her friends in the Big Apple and the writers stylize their scenarios with Melinda the only link. She’ll form bonds with single people and couples and have romance and learn some unpleasant things about herself and those around her.
Allen’s directorial touch almost feels free form, letting the actors explore moments with his typical, often insightful dialogue with fewer standout one-liners. The actor whose character comes closest to an Allen surrogate is Will Ferrell as Hobie, an unemployed actor and unsatisfied husband. He is beguiled by Melinda’s ingestion of 28 sleeping pills and his response to a spouse’s infidelity is a comedic highlight. Hobie’s film maker wife as acted by Amanda Peet with business minded imperiousness as she sets about producing “The Castration Sonata.”
The plotting moves from uptown to downtown as one Melinda will enter the lives of friend Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and her husband (Jonny Lee Miller) in not a very stable marriage. Peet’s Susan will fix Melinda up with a handsome dentist (Josh Brolin); that doesn’t sit well with an enamored Hobie. Allen’s sliding doors for Mitchell will have another friend Cassie (Brooke Smith) hooking her up with a widowed dentist, only to be drawn to a charismatic musician, Ellis (Chiwetel Ejiofor of Dirty Pretty Things).
Mitchell invests much emotion in a complex role, and solid backup comes from Sevigny who sharply understates a melancholic woman who lives in a Park Avenue loft. And, most notably from Ejiofor who performs his scenes with an unforced humor and charm not feeling awestruck by Allen’s mystique in a big, vibrant city.
Melinda and Melinda may be like a trapeze dramedy with both genres essential to the other and Allen’s exploration may be similar to the idea in Hitch of recognizing the importance of the good and bad in our lives. It doesn’t get bogged down from its premise, able to shade passionate moments with sensitivity. And in relating the neuroses of these Manhattanities, the impulsive, yet imaginative film maker complements it all with swing jazz pieces and lush compositions when it comes to designing and cinematography.
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