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March 18 Release, 2005, Melinda and Melinda *** 1/2

March 18, 2008

This is my favorite Woody Allen film since Annie Hall.

Melinda and Melinda is three stories in one. The first being the storytellers at dinner trying to determine whether life is comic or tragic. In order to illustrate their points, two of the diners tell the story of Melinda. The first being the tragic drama of Melinda (starring Radha Mitchell) who has lost her family and is spiraling into a a suicidal trauma. She arrives at college friends Laurel (the amazing Chloe Sevigny) and Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) to try and straighten up her life. While Laurel and Lee’s marriage falls apart, Melinda begins to improve and even finds love. However as the tragic drama, Melinda can only spiral downward once more to prove that life is nothing more than pain.

Sevigny and Miller are excellent in this story even if Allen tends to make his actors appear as if they are slightly uncomfortable in their own skin. This has more to do with Allen’s typical dialogue that is usually too stunted too appear realistic. The other frustration is that Mitchell is somewhat too whiny making me not care about her drama.

As the story progresses, the other diner decides to tell the comic version where Melinda (still Radha Mitchell) is actually a neighbor to the couple (who have changed completely from the dramatic story). During their dinner party, she bursts in and meets unemployed Hobie (Will Ferrell) and wife Susan (Amanda Peet). As Hobie and Susan’s marriage dissolve, Melinda becomes the unintentional object of affection for Hobie. Ferrell appears to be channeling Woody Allen in his role. As the comedy, the story has a lighthearted happy ending. Ferrell is delightful while Peet is not given enough to showcase her talent. I enjoy this version of Melinda more, but appreciate the dramatic elements of the other storyline. If only the two could converge, what would we have?

In the end, we return to the diners who decide that life is what you choose to perceive as one story can be seen through many different lens. While the execution falls somewhat short of my expectations (is life ever really so black and white as tragic or comic only?), the premise piqued my interest and forced me to stop and think about the limits of perception.

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