Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I’ve talked to a few people who have had a peek at this one, and word is pretty strong on it. One person told me it was “Woody’s best in recent memory,” which bodes well for the release next spring from Fox Searchlight. This is the first review we’ve had for it here on AICN, and it’s a good one. Check it out:
Haven’t written in some time but I had the good fortune to see Melinda And Melinda last night, the film that features the unlikely marriage of Will Ferrell in a Woody Allen written and directed film.
I’m going to be brief because I’d already just spent 40 minutes writing this review when my internet died and I lost the whole thing. Now I have to get back to work and am desperately behind so I don’t have time to rewrite everything.
I should say going in that I’m a Woody Allen obsessive and I believe his worst film is still better than most people’s best. He is the greatest living comedy writer. I’m not that interested in him as a person and I can take or leave him as an actor but I’m still a great fan. That said he’s been on a bit of a downer lately (Jade Scorpion probably being the true low point in his career). I think Sweet & Lowdown was his last great effort.
Melinda And Melinda proves to me, however, that you can never write Woody off. After the great run of Love & Death, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Interiors and Manhattan in the late 70s he hit a rough patch with Stardust Memories, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy etc but rebounded with Purple Rose Of Cairo, Broadway Danny Rose and Hannah And Her Sisters. September, Another Woman, Alice and Shadows & Fog may have been a weaker period but then we got the great Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bullets Over Broadway and Everyone Says I Love You. Melinda And Melinda is his best since the early 90s high point and probably his best film since Bullets Over Broadway – another film he wasn’t actually in though that is not why.
Just to cover the basic plot. Four people in a coffee shop are discuss the difference of comedy and tragedy. The woman in the group tells the story of a woman that turns up unannounced to a dinner party and two playwrights give their takes on how, one comic one tragic, they would play out a story from there. We then follow two plot treads with Radha Mitchell playing Melinda in both storylines (hence the title) with different suporting casts.
Mitchell is superb here. It’s nice to see her front and centre and not being overshadowed by someone else (Diesel in Pitch Black, Sheedy in High Art). This could be the film to really put her in the map and pull her out of thankless supporting roles (Phone Booth, Finding Neverland) into juicier parts. She has the real challenge of the script, having to play one character two very different ways. One a depressed, hard-up, difficult, moody and mistrusting woman, the other an open, bright and excitable force of nature. She is always good value but is a revelation here.
In the serious half (which still has plenty of great comic moments including a really funny quip about sleeping with a pregnant woman) Chloe Sevigny is the stand out, although Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brooke Smith are also excellent.
Sadly the one major flaw comes in this section, which is Jonny Lee Miller. He plays Sevigny’s struggling, alcoholic actor husband and has to be the most unconvincing alcoholic drunk in celluloid history. He makes you want to thank Meg Ryan for her great (!) portrayal of the condition in When A Man Loves A Woman. I suspect Allen has realised this for he gets noticably less screen time than most characters which I’d bet happened in the editing.
In the comic section Will Ferrell is brilliant in the Woody role. Cusack played it well in Bullets but Branagh overplayed it in Celebrity and Jason Biggs wasn’t up to it in Anything Else. Ferrell is spot on, mixing his own brand of comic lunacy and physical capabilities with how Allen would have played the part 20 years ago. Ferrell fans beware, however. Your hero is brilliant here but this is very much a Woody film not a Will film. He is reigned in a bit, more of an Elf performance than an Anchorman one. This is Ferrell’s best work. He is effective both in the wonderful slapstick buffoonery that exists and the quick banter Woody’s films are famous for. Amanda Peet is fine in support here, although Steve Carell (my favourite part of Anchorman) was utterly wasted in a minor role.
I have to say while I’m glad Woody for once has a worldwide distributor in Fox I think Fox Searchlight have really f***ed up the release putting it in March next year in North America. This is Woody on top form. I hesitate to say one of his top five films because that would already be jostling with Purple Rose, Annie Hall, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Manhattan, Love & Death, Everyone Says I Love You, Bullets Over Broadway, Crimes & Misdemeanors and Hannah And Her Sisters in my book, but it’s up there. It is a great blend of slapstick and cerebral comedy, like Broadway Danny Rose or Bullets Over Broadway.
Woody could easily get, and deserves, a screenplay nod from the Academy but moreover Radha Mitchell’s performance flat out demands awards recognition. Sevigny and Ferrell are good enough for supporting noms depending on the competition. It is a real shame they will not be considered because Searchlight can’t pull its finger out of its butt and move it up to a December release. The UK gets it in December for crying out loud. I am sure if it were launched this year then come Oscar time we’d see Woody and his cast back amongst the noms where his films used to be a mainstay. I can only pray that Fox Searchlight comes to its senses, realises what a truly great Allen return to form they have on their hands and move it up.
For now this is Motta signing off.
Tell you what... this guy knows his Allen films, and he namechecks all the right ones. Anyone who includes LOVE & DEATH on the short list of great Woody movies knows what the hell he’s talking about. As of right now, MELINDA & MELINDA is one of those films I’m dying to see. HURRY!! HURRY!!