Thursday, March 24, 2005

Afloat on the goodwill of past dates: Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda"

Woody Allen movies can be a lot like the characters he used to write for himself and now writes for younger actors still of prime wooing age. Perhaps you/we, the moviegoer/woman-of-interest, have gone on a few dates with him before, and are left with mostly positive memories. Sure he's a bit neurotic, but aren't we all? Sure, he's not that attractive, but he's funny -- most of the time, at least. And he likes art, and wine, and good music, and he's passionate and likes to go on field trips within a reasonable radius of the New York universe. And those doubts he has about everything? Well, we all have doubts, don't we?

Such is the case with "Melinda and Melinda," Woody's latest film. It has a fun sort of dinner-table-intellectual premise (does life offer more fodder for comedians or tragedians?), some interesting and talented actors, and that wonderfully anachronistic but nonetheless enticing Manhattan-of-Woody's-mind with the spacious apartments to die for, owned by out-of-work actors who could likely never afford them at today's prices. Along the way, the divergent storylines mix and match motifs and locations, and because it's a Woody Allen movie, you end up laughing at the absurdities of the supposedly "tragic" Melinda's plot as much as you do at Will Ferrell's goofing as the Woody stand-in during the film's "comedic" half. (Both Melindas are played by Radha Mitchell, a promising Australian actress caught in a less-than-wonderful film.)

At times, I couldn't help asking whether the "tragedy" scenes with Melinda were meant to drag on so dully or whether Woody just got lazy with his premise (or didn't know how to pull off "sad") midway through. During a few scenes, I got that recurring notion: "Come on, people! Pull yourselves together. Your lives could be a hulluva lot worse; here you're hopping off to Belmont every other day, shopping for expensive Art Deco jewelry, listening to live Bartok ... Snap outta that woe-is-I misery."

And then those feelings pass, and I laugh some more, and the movie ends, and it's not great cinema, but it's still a Woody Allen movie, and heck, it was nice to come in out of the biting, stinging sleet on a Wednesday evening out in real-reality Manhattan. So there: I've been entertained and I have enough warm, funny Woody memories to get me through a few seasons until his next film comes out.

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