Melinda and Melinda

on March 18, 2005 by Richard Mowe
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The combination of Woody Allen and Will Ferrell and the familiar Manhattan locales would be enough in itself to make "Melinda and Melinda" a very appealing proposition on paper. Together with an astute ensemble cast and a witty premise, "Melinda and Melinda" in practice makes for one of Allen's most accomplished and enjoyable films in years. The story starts in a Chinese restaurant with a group of arty types (including the inimitable Wallace Shawn) discussing the relative merits of comedy versus tragedy. Then we cut to twin narratives, each of which begins with the same incident, but which develop along different lines--one tragic, one comic.

The cast sparkles under Allen's aegis and the challenge of making it all work, in particular Rhada Mitchell in the double female role of a distressed woman trying to sort out her life. Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet and British actor Chiwitel Ejiofor also confront all those classic Allen themes about the fragility of love, marital infidelity, sophisticated romance, and the inability to communicate. There is a feeling of mischievously pushing the boundaries, which hasn't been present in Allen's work for a long time, and gently he teases the characters toward the obvious denouement that comedy is funniest when it is underpinned with tragedy, and that tragedy frequently has a ridiculous edge. That may not be an earth-shattering conclusion, but it makes for a wonderfully vibrant ride, set to the usual jazz-based score. Starring Will Ferrell, Johnny Lee Miller, Radha Mitchell, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet, Wallace Shawn, Josh Brolin, Gene Saks, Vinessa Shaw and Chiwitel Ejiofor. Directed and written by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for adult situations involving sexuality, and some substance material. Running time: 99 min

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