In ‘Melinda,’ all voices sound alike


Woody Allen’s filmmaking style never changes, which makes it easy when deciding whether to see his films. Those who don’t like his work know to avoid his pictures and those who do know what to expect. In “Melinda and Melinda,” Allen attempts to look at two couples’ personal struggles with morality, jealousy and, ultimately, who they are.

Two writers, Max (Larry Pine) and Sy (Wallace Shaw), are having dinner with their wives when the men begin to argue over a story. Sy believes it’s a romantic comedy, while his friend Max, sees it as a tragedy. The movie then unfolds with parallel stories using the same scenario and central character, Melinda (Radha Mitchell), but with different twists.

In Sy’s version, Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) and Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) are having a dinner party and have invited the producer of a play and his wife. They hope the director will cast Lee in his next play, as his unemployment has left the couple short on money. Suddenly, Laurel’s old friend Melinda, who was expected two months earlier and never showed up, barges into the dinner party. She’s arrived disheveled, broke, desperate, divorced and unstable from a prior suicide attempt because she lost her children and went to jail.

In Wallace’s version, Al (Neil Pepe) and Susan (Amanda Peet) have invited an investor and his wife for dinner, hoping he will finance Susan’s next film. During the dinner Melinda, a complete stranger who lives in the building, shows up at this party. She’s presentable, seems quite lonely and is immediately invited in to dine with the group.

The story then moves into marital struggles, infidelities, work problems and new relationships among the couples. Chiwetel Ejiofor comes on scene as the lucky man who is wanted by two women.

While the idea of taking one story and seeing it differently through the eyes of two diverse writers is intriguing, the execution of that idea clearly does not work in this film. Several problems are attributed to this. Allen is famous for his obsequious banter that goes on and on and back and forth in his movies.

The same singsong, low-tone, high-tone dialogue gets very annoying and none of the characters has his own voice. They all sound like Woody Allen.

In addition, Allen tends to tell his stories through the dialogue, so you know what’s going to happen before you see it. This is like reading a book and does a great disservice to the actors, who never see a complete script in a Woody Allen movie, only their pages before a scene is shot. So, in “Melinda and Melinda” the talents of these actors are wasted. They’re like paper dolls trying to bring a vision to life.

Will Ferrell does offer some laughs in his role as the manic and anxious actor who finds Melinda more appealing than his princess bride. Radha Mitchell does a good job of playing the two Melindas, however, there is no story here. It’s more like a reality television show watching six people struggling with their dysfunctional lives.

Allen uses this quote to reference the film: “Comedy is tragedy that happened to other people,” author Angela Carter. Personally, I find nothing funny about other people’s tragedies or “Melinda and Melinda.”

“Melinda and Melinda” is playing at La Jolla Village Cinema.