Melinda and Melinda

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Just when Allen’s career-slide seemed depressingly inexorable, along comes his best film since 1999’s ‘Sweet and Lowdown’. It’s built on his richest conceit in a while: around a New York restaurant table, rival writers debate the merits of comedy and tragedy, weighing the balm of escapism against confrontation with the absurd. To illustrate their arguments, the same story is told from different perspectives: the arrival of Radha Mitchell’s unexpected guest at respective Manhattan dinner parties sparks (in the serious version) further tensions in the marriage of Chloë Sevigny and her wayward actor husband Jonny Lee Miller, and (in the funny version) pangs of desire from bit-player Will Ferrell, very much the junior partner to successful filmmaker wife Amanda Peet. Complications abound as the pace of intercutting escalates – and if we find it increasingly difficult to tell where comedy ends and tragedy begins? Well, that’s pretty much the idea.
The Allen of yore might have made this seem less an exercise and more a wise reflection on the human condition, but it’s still far more fluid than his films have been of late, and the cast do him proud. Ferrell plays the Woody manqué role broader than the writer-director himself, but is still most amusing; Sevigny, perhaps surprisingly, offers a delicately nuanced study in disappointment; and Mitchell’s adept delineation of the two Melindas is captivating indeed. And if the slightly creaky self-consciousness forestalls our absolute submission, the combination of wry moral observation and stinging wit still makes it a Woody Allen film worthy of its maker. At this stage, perhaps it’s as much as we could hope for.

Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday March 25 2005
Duration: 99 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Will Ferrell
Neil Pepe
Radha Mitchell
Chloë Sevigny
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Josh Brolin
Jonny Lee Miller
Amanda Peet
Wallace Shawn
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