A group of friends are having dinner in a nice New York restaurant. Max (Larry Pine) writes tragedies. Sy (Wallace Shawn) writes romantic comedies. The two can’t seem to agree on which deserves to be taken more seriously as an art form or worldview, but hold on: What if tragedy and comedy were just two sides of the same coin? A friend tells them the story of Melinda Robicheaux (Radha Mitchell) and challenges them to tell him if it’s a tragedy or a comedy, but of course it all depends on your point of view.
Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda is considered one of the director’s weaker efforts, but it is certainly an interesting concept. The story forces you to consider how our attitude towards life and how we view and interpret the world around us affects our reality. Both Max and Sy were told the same story (or premise), but they ended up constructing completely different realities in their minds. Max immediately saw the sad side of Melinda’s character, while Sy had a more hopeful vision of her. Ironically both stories end similarly, while being completely different in tone.
The recurring theme of the story is that life is short and about nothing. Enjoy your stay on this earth, make the best of it, don’t over think it: This seems to be Woody’s wisdom. It’s nothing new, especially not for him, but it’s worth thinking about. The film works so well mostly because of Woody’s witty writing, the talented ensemble cast and Radha Mitchell‘s excellent performance as both desperate and delightful Melinda. It’s really a Mia Farrow type of performance in its range and depth. Other notable actors include: Chloë Sevigny, Will Ferrell (acting like Woody Allen), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Steve Carell and Josh Brolin.
My only criticism to the film, and I’m not entirely sure it’s justified, is that we don’t know the “neutral” story that Max and Sy were told. This makes it impossible to know how much liberties the two took in telling their own versions. At the same time knowing the story and the ending beforehand the film would have probably been boring and repetitive. Max’s Melinda character isn’t exactly a new archetype for Allen, but it seems to be a recurring one and lately showed up in Blue Jasmine, although Cate Blanchett manages to make her more sympathetic.
All in all I would recommend this film to fans of Woody Allen, because like me they’ll be able to find a lot to enjoy. If you’re new to the director I would recommend watching his classics first. Like I said though Melinda and Melinda does have some fascinating ideas and is worth discussing. As always it’s about art, relationships and the meaning of life. It manages to balance all three fairly well, but sometimes is more interested in making a statement than making you laugh. Still there’s a lot of irony and some genuinely hilarious moments, so it’s not exactly a tragedy either.
7 out of 10