Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda opened to mixed reviews ten years ago. The film’s main narrative is split between two stories which both revolve around a character called Melinda. These two stories are merely the fabrications of two friends discussing the comedy and tragedy of life over a meal and a glass of wine. Allen handles the film’s layers with care, knowing just when to draw us in and out of each segment. Each of Melinda’s story-lines deal with either comedy or tragedy but the distinction between each isn’t always clear. Some may see this is the film’s greatest flaw but actually it’s the whole point. In both situations Melinda disrupts something. In both cases it’s a dinner party but in one scenario Melinda is a troubled close friend to the hosts and in another she is a suicidal stranger. In each situation she brings chaos into relationships and homes although this is not always her intention. Melinda and Melinda is Allen doing what he does best, playing with narrative, questioning the human condition and highlighting our inconsistencies in love and life. For fans of Allen’s work, such as myself, Melinda and Melinda is charming but it is also understandable that those not as convinced by his movies will find Melinda and Melinda disjointed and a little bland.
In both the comedy and the tragedy, Melinda is played by Radha Mitchell. She remains the only actor who crosses over into each narrative. Her character’s erratic manner, self-doubt and Allen-esque panic comes across in Mitchell’s bold and intense performances as the film’s most influential character. Despite the film’s title, and Mitchell’s performance being undeniably the most central and prominent, Melinda is not exactly the main character. She is more of a vessel which steers the behaviour of other characters around her. We are more interested in the husbands, wives and lovers that she interacts with. Will Farrell plays Hobie, a man at the centre of the comedy. An out of work actor whose struggling marriage begins to suffer even more when he and his wife begin to fall for other people, Hobie is the character Allen would most likely have played himself. Farrell does a great job at capturing the essence of a character we have seen so many times before but to whom it is always a delight to return. Other familiar faces include Wallace Shawn and Chloë Sevigny who are both either as amusing or superficial as Allen would have intended. Melinda and Melinda may not be one of Allen’s timeless triumphs but its playfulness and mix of sorrow and hilarity reminds us what life is all about and that sometimes, amidst all of the madness, all we can do is laugh.
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