Stephanie Roth Haberle……….Louise
Michael J. Farina……….Man with dog
Jonny Lee Miller……….Lee
With 15 Oscar nominations and three wins, Woody Allen’s place as one of the top writers and directors in Hollywood history is secure. He has crafted a cottage industry of quirky comedies involving people with varying levels of neurosis all involving the differing subtexts and situations that only romance and love can bring out. While never as commercially successful as some of his peers, as a comedic auteur Allen has few (if any) peers in the movie industry. And after his Academy Award wins for Annie Hall for both Best Director and Best Picture, Allen has continued to try and innovate his signature style. His work in Annie Hall in terms of character development can still be seen almost 20 years after the fact, and yet his most successful piece is also the one people want more of. Not content on settling for remaking the movie as often as Rio Bravo has, Allen has dared to go above and beyond his signature classic with mixed results.
In many ways Melinda & Melinda is a companion piece to his immortal classic about a man and a woman’s relationship. Whereas Annie Hall begs the dilemma of how love can go wrong, Melinda & Melinda gives us a similar scenario about the nature of romance and its’ role in life. Is the end of romance comedy or tragedy? Instead of answering the question, Allen gives us both sides. What starts out as a discussion of the nature of life, comedic or tragic, turns into the tale of two couples and the woman who comes into their lives named Melinda.
The comedic side stars Hobie (Will Ferrell) and Susan (Amanda Peet). Susan is an ambitious Indy film-maker while her husband is an under-employed actor. Their Downstairs neighbor is Melinda (Radha Mitchell), their childless downstairs neighbor.
The tragic side has Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and Lee (Jonny Lee Miller). Laurel is a Park Avenue princess to her actor beau Lee, with Melinda being their long-lost friend who shows up at their front door.
Mitchell stars in both sides of the story as Melinda, equal parts tragic and comedic. And Woody Allen, after all these years, has crafted another masterpiece worthy of the legacy of Annie Hall.
The beauty of the movie is that Allen meshes both of these stories into one narrative that maintains the pace of both stories effectively. In a movie like this, trying to blend in two very similar stories and maintain the pace and consistency of the movie is difficult; Allen knows this and crafts it magnificently. On their own, each side of this movie could hold up if crafted individually, and crafted together they make an amazing movie. Allen has assembled a top notch cast on both sides and has crafted his movie to maximize their talents.
On the comedic side, Ferrell and Peet are allowed to come alive on screen. Allen has scripted Ferrell into his standard neurotic funnyman, but at the same time this is Will Ferrell’s neurotic funnyman. While he is neurotic in the Allen tradition, he is not trying to be Woody Allen nor does Allen try and portray him as such. Ferrell is allowed to work the character the way he knows best and Allen knows this and lets him; there are several running gags that are executed well. And Ferrell isn’t the only one allowed to be funny. Peet and Mitchell show some high quality comedic timing with each other and with Ferrell. On its’ own, this is a well-executed and entertaining romantic comedy.
The tragic side of the movie is just as equally entertaining as the comedic side. In this other telling of the story, Lee and Lauren have a viable, if troubled, relationship. Lee is a man trying to be a pretentious artist without the requisite fame and Laurel is adjusting to life on the other side of the income bracket. They have real problems and real situations to handle, and they handle them in the manner a couple in their situation could handle them. It’s realistic and as a dark, dramatic look at a failing marriage it is a tight, crisp story about love and relationships.