Melinda and Melinda (2004)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Melinda and Melinda</strong> (2004)

(In French, On Cable TV, December 2018) In the grand scheme of writer/director Woody Allen’s career, Melinda and Melinda feels both like a partial return to form and a transitional film. Occurring right before Allen’s European phase, it takes place in his Manhattan playground and features the kind of high concept that he played with in the earlier segments of his career—specifically, what if the same initial situation led to two separate stories, one tragic and one comic. Radha Mitchell stars as the same protagonist in both stories, with a typically good cast surrounding her in both versions. There is no single Allen analogue to be found here, showing the way that most of his European movies would go. Unfortunately, the concept of having playwrights arguing over whether life is a comedy or a tragedy by telling competing stories is perhaps better than the actual result: the cohesion between the stories is disappointing, as are the echoes going back and forth between the two of them. It’s the kind of device that a younger filmmaker may have been able to exploit more daringly, because as it is Melinda and Melinda often feels like a comfortable and perfunctory return to the kind of gently upper-class Manhattanite comedy that Allen did throughout his career. We’re more or less in the same apartment blocks, going to art-house movies, discussing literature and philosophy in the same ways other Allen characters have done. This does not, in other words, do much to expand Allen’s repertoire but it can be a comfy return to form for his audience. The result is predictably middle-of-the-road, liable to please those who think it will please them. It’s a specific kind of film, the kind where even an inconclusive abrupt ending becomes a gag in itself. In other words, don’t care too deeply about it.

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