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Woody Allen and Will Ferrell' What

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!!

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 30, 2004, 7:26 a.m. CST


    by Cassidy21

    Ferrell rules!

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 8:03 a.m. CST

    Didn't know much about this

    by Mayhem23

    But love Will Ferrell and I gotta see it now.

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 8:14 a.m. CST

    anything else was absolute garbage

    by JoeStokowski

    this sounds good.

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 8:55 a.m. CST

    Perhaps the plantiest post in the history of AICN

    by heywood jablomie

    The dead giveaway: the parenthetical namecheck of PHONE BOOTH and FINDING NEVERLAND. What shmoey moviegoer knows that Radha Mitchell is in a movie that doesn't come out for four months?

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 9:08 a.m. CST

    Hey heywood jablomie, wish I were a plant I'd earn more

    by filmcoyote

    You have a point about Phone Booth and Neverland being Fox titles though, that hadn't occurred to me. I know Mitchell's in Neverland because I work in the film press and I'd been discussing Melinda And Melinda with a colleague and how she's always in thankless supporting roles and they mentioned Neverland to me as being yet another one. I can see why enthusiasm is assumed to be a plant but if I were i'd presumably be working for Fox and i'd earn a lot more than I do right now and might have met the great man Woody, in which case i'd be dead right now having keeled straight over in shock!

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 10:20 a.m. CST

    I can almost picture Woody hunched over his computer on 5th Aven

    by Lance Rock

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 11:57 a.m. CST

    Real moviegoers don't give a fuck about the Oscars!

    by Wormie

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 12:23 p.m. CST

    I knew Radha Mitchell was in "Finding Neverland."

    by Christopher3

    But I didn't know Woody Allen was still making films. Also, "Chloe" rhymes with "blowy." Just thought I'd point that out.

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 4:18 p.m. CST

    "my internet died"?

    by matrix69

    what the hell does that mean? And the review was STILL too long - you didn't get back to work soon enough dude.

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 4:23 p.m. CST

    jonny lee miller.

    by BEARison Ford

    man i love this guy. why isn't he working more in hollywood? yes, he's not as gifted as peers ewan or jude, but in my mind, he should be in a lot more stuff.

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 4:25 p.m. CST

    btw, heywood jablomie, i

    by BEARison Ford

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 4:26 p.m. CST

    btw, heywood jablomie, i've known that radha mitchell is in find

    by BEARison Ford


  • What are you talking about? A movie plant, a corporate shill flower? And why not on an internet message board? Why do we always expect them to come in metal ships? Looks like Motta didn't disconnect his internet soon enough, now he's one of them. Grooooookkkkk!

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 5:10 p.m. CST

    Fields of rippling wheat

    by 0101010

    Wheat... wheat with feathers... a tremendous amount of wheat!

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 9:21 p.m. CST

    With the exception of a joke in incredibly poor taste at the exp

    by Trader Groucho 2

    And that would be the film our reviewer left off his list of good Woody, although Mighty Aphrodite wasn't bad either and did garner blubbering Paul Sorvino's daughter (I should reconsider this characterization. Sorvino is a proud and loving father, and completely unafraid to show his emotions on the world stage, which speaks to him as an actor as well) some recognition.

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 11:33 p.m. CST

    he knows what the hell he

    by Mr Brownstone

  • Aug. 30, 2004, 11:35 p.m. CST

    woops* he knows what the hell he's talking about except

    by Mr Brownstone

    Stardust Memories is one of the best Allen films. Maligned and underrated yes. But also one of his best.

  • Aug. 31, 2004, 3:17 p.m. CST

    freedom of failures

    by drjones

    ...sleeper is also a great film of woody. well he may have his failures inthe past few years but i think every artist should be allowed to have these failures among all their work of genius without getting kicked in the ass for it (although sometimes that may help)...after all they

  • Aug. 31, 2004, 8:42 p.m. CST

    Just to throw this out there but HUSBAND AND WIVES is a great fr

    by lostoptimist

    That is all.

  • Sept. 1, 2004, 12:02 a.m. CST

    Woody's worst is better than other directors' best?

    by Smurfette

    Sounds like too big a fan to write a review i can relate to.

  • Sept. 1, 2004, 2:40 p.m. CST

    Jonny Lee Miller, the most unconvincing alcoholic drunk in cellu

    by cornstalkwalker

    I thought playing a drunk and a retarded person were some of the easiest roles to play.

  • Sept. 1, 2004, 3:08 p.m. CST

    The Incest/Pedophilia specter lingers

    by Mars1

    Woody's personal problems have managed to put me *completely* off his movies. What was once quirky is now creepy. I KNOW I should be able to separate an artists private life from their work (essential if you want to watch any movie with Julia Roberts in it, she's such a b*tch IRL). With Woody, I can't.