Melinda and Melinda

Movie Review #830: ‘Melinda and Melinda’ manages little else, other than to disappoint.

★½
By Alexander Diminiano

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Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13 (contains mature themes, sexual content, alcohol use)
99 minutes

“Why do things that start off so promisingly always have a way of ending up in the dump?”

Says Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ellis Moonsong in “Melinda and Melinda”. Frankly, he’s making a complaint about the movie itself. “Melinda and Melinda” shows little talent except its uncanny ability to disappoint its audience. Not that I was even asking for much. I just wanted a movie that would make me laugh, and it turns out that “Melinda and Melinda” wants to experiment with the field of tragicomedy, not simply comedy. Unfortunately, the comedy isn’t always funny, but the tragedy is most often depressing. The movie begins and ends with an appearance by Wallace Shawn, and even he can’t brighten up the movie. Which, quite frankly, is inconceivable.

I never have doubted Woody Allen’s casting choices. He’s proven more times than I can fathom that he is, more than anything else, an actor’s director. Yet I strongly disapprove of one radical casting choice he has made with “Melinda and Melinda”, and that is Will Ferrell. Ferrell is an even more questionable choice than Jason Biggs was in “Anything Else”, and he’s rather embarrassingly miscast. He has one good line in this movie. I wouldn’t have remembered it if I hadn’t written it down. It’s: “No! My Chilean sea bass slightly dusted with lime!”

It seems Radha Mitchell fills this hole with her own performance, but the script does her a disservice, quite unfortunately. Mitchell performs literally whatever the script is trying to convey of the character Melinda, and on paper, the film’s idea of tragicomedy is very uneven. One moment, Mitchell is hysterically funny in her role. The next, she’s believably depressing, and from the way she’s constantly going on about her suicide attempts, she just becomes too much depression to handle.

This is an appropriate title, because everything in “Melinda and Melinda” is gossip. “Melinda this. Melinda that. I heard Melinda’s depressed. I heard Melinda’s taking Prozac. I heard Melinda’s going out to the grocery store.” The kind of people that are essentially on the screen so that they can ask you to roll your eyes. But there’s all the more reason to dislike these characters: they see Melinda all the time, they talk about her all the time, and yet they don’t give a damn about her self-destructive personality.

“Melinda and Melinda” lacks quite some substance, but it does have its moments. The scene whence Melinda freaks out and starts screaming bloody murder over ticks and leeches is the closest thing to a gut-buster that the film has in stock. Later on in the movie, Allen incorporates Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” into a flashback. Whether the scene worked because it was actually good, or because I just love the song, I can’t really say. Ditto the incorporation of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, Allegretto, Movement 2. Maybe I’m just noting these because I enjoyed hearing these pieces in an overall dull movie. But at least there’s some clean spots on this dirty rag.

“Melinda and Melinda” is Woody Allen’s “Slacker”. It’s a terribly uninteresting comedy full of scattershot jokes and characters who do nothing but walk around the streets of Manhattan. There’s bits and pieces of story here, but ultimately, nothing really big happens. (To be honest, nothing really little happens, either.) It’s miles below Allen’s potential as a veteran filmmaker.

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