I’ve always wanted to live in Woody Allen’s movie-world; a Manhattan populated by witty yet neurotic people who go to dinner parties where brilliant conversation never ends … a world where everyone wears earth tones (and looks good in them) … a world where everyone has great apartments with bookshelves loaded with the writings of Nabokov and Longfellow …a world where everyone falls in love with everyone else even though they have great husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends right under their collective noses … a world where you mention the college you went to , even if you are fifty or sixty years old … a world where every street is lined with brownstones and parks…
All I’ve got going for me is the neurosis.
In any case, today I watched Allen’s latest offering, “Melinda and Melinda”; a marvelous piece about the duality of life that begins with a group of writers sitting in an oh-so-trendy and cozy looking little bistro somewhere in Manhattan. The friends are discussing what makes a story a tragedy versus a comedy. One of them tells the story of a woman who crashes a dinner party, which causes all kinds of disturbing unrest. The other story teller takes the same narrative, but this time has the same woman crash a different dinner party, with comical consequences…and thus the movie takes off.
Radha Mitchell plays Melinda in both of the stories. Her dramatic Melinda is a disturbed young woman with a very troubled past, her comic Melinda is a ditzy young woman with an eccentric past.
The dramatic tale is supported by a great cast that includes Chloë Sevigny as Melinda’s old college pal who, herself, is trapped in a very un-happy marriage. Meanwhile the comic tale’s cast includes Will Ferrell who is, surprisingly, perfect as the out-of-work-actor married to a Type-A film director, Amanda Peet.
As both tales are being weaved, the viewer is thrown back and forth from the comic to the tragic; indeed, several points of both stories work into the other: a “magic” lamp, a romance that begins at a piano, a failed suicide attempt (one played straight, and the other played for laughs, of course).
This is a movie for people who don’t like Woody Allen, as he is not in the film (though it is very obvious at times that Farrell is channeling him, and quite well). That said, Allen’s sensibilities are all over the place as well as his witticisms. There are some of the funniest lines that Woody has penned in years through out Melinda and Melinda. For instance, when Peet’s character, Susan says, “I wish we could afford a pad in the Hamptons. Everybody who's anybody has one.” Ferrell. as her husband. replies, “But if you're somebody who's nobody, it's no fun to be around anybody who's everybody.”
While the film itself was engrossing as well as enjoyable, the coda where the story tellers wrap everything up is spot-on, especially when Wallace Shawn’s character proclaims, “Let’s drink to good times. Comic or tragic, the most important thing to do is enjoy life while you can. Because we only go around once, and when it’s over, it’s over. And when you least expect it, it could end like that!”
And with that, he snaps his fingers, the screen goes black and, after a pause, the credits roll.