`melinda and melinda' is a standard Woody Allen written and directed seriocomic essay in human relations. It is good, but not as good as his very best, such as `Hannah and Her Sisters' or `Crimes and Misdemeanors'. Herr Professor Allen's conceit in this film is set up in a conversation of four friends over wine at a Manhattan bistro, where two of the four friends are playwrights discussing the premise / first scene of a plot. One writer interprets the situation as a tragedy and the other interprets the situation as a comedy.
The remainder of the movie plays out the two different plots with a single actress, Radha Mitchell, playing the central character, Melinda, in both the comedy and the tragedy. Unlike a similar scenario in the famous Kurasawa movie, `Rashoman', the two interpretations are not different ways of seeing the same events. The plot in the two threads diverges markedly after the initial arrival of Melinda at the dinner party of two completely different sets of characters.
Unlike most of Allen's other movies, this cast is not packed to the gills with famous names and faces itching to appear in one of the Woodman's films. The only three actors who I recognize by name or face are Will Ferrell, Amanda Peet, and Allen regular, Wallace Shawn. Woody doesn't even appear in the movie himself, although I swear Ferrell's lines and personality were written for the stock Woody Allen nebbish character. Even though Ferrell looks much more like the character typically played by Tony Roberts in earlier Allen films, in this work, the tall guy with the short curly hair is the out of work clueless character, being supported by his wife in her job as a film writer and director.
Another twist which raises the story above the mundane is the fact that the two story lines are neither purely comedy or tragedy, although the comic story, woven by Shawn and starring Ferrell does end on a happy note, while the tragic story line does end unhappily, albeit not in total tragedy as you would understand that term as applied to `Macbeth' or `Hamlet'.
On the back of the CD case, Rolling Stone is quoted as saying that `You'll laugh till it hurts'. Well, I didn't even laugh once. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the movie. The charm and the humanity of the performers in playing out Allen's ideas was well worth the price of admission. Another blurb declares that Ferrell delivers a `laugh out loud performance', making it sound like his performance in `Elf'. Ferrell committed himself much better in this movie than in his more slapstick / comic strip efforts in recent movies, proving to me that he is as good an actor as people have so often said he is. This may very well be my favorite Ferrell performance since his appearance in Kevin Smith's `Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back'.
This is not Allen's best effort, although it may be his best among his last few outings. It is also not quite as crisp as, for example, `Sideways', one of the few intelligently funny movies other than Herr Doktor Allen's works lately. But, as intelligent, adult entertainment goes, this will tide me over until Woody produces another `Manhattan'.