How one goes through life depends entirely on his or her perspective. One individual might see the tragedy inherent in a specific event, and yet someone else might perceive the same event to be a positive. Is the event itself tragic or comic, or does it depend solely upon your point of view?
This philosophical merry-go-round is the foundation for Woody Allen’s 2004 film, Melinda and Melinda. The film opens at a restaurant where four friends are in the middle of a conversation about life and relationships. Two of the friends are playwrights. One friend says that life is inherently tragic, but the other claims that life is inherently comic. A third friend sets the plot in motion when he asks the two playwrights to listen to a story and then comment on whether the tale is best viewed as a tragedy or comedy.
From that point, the film follows two parallel stories, centering on Melinda, a young woman trying to get her life back together after a series of bad relationships and self-destructive behavior. One story follows a dramatic interpretation, and one follows the conventions of a romantic comedy.
Commentary: The Premise
The premise of following parallel stories is engaging, although cliched and formulaic. This movie would not seem quite so original had it been produced as a stand-alone tragedy or comedy. But because both story arcs are shown side by side, the film is much more interesting. I think most people enjoy contemplating how life’s course can be set in one direction or another by events outside their control. It’s fun to imagine what if? scenarios, thinking how things could have been different, if only…
Commentary: The Dialogue
The dialogue in the film is a number of things – snappy, clever, poetic, and philosophical. Allen allows his characters to speak what many of us only think. The danger of doing so, however, is that a lot of the dialogue is too on-the-nose and expository. It doesn’t ring true for real life. Characters (Melinda especially) engage in reflective and introspective monologues that are often tedious. At times it feels more like a stage play than a film, but perhaps that’s the intent, considering that we are seeing this story through the eyes of two playwrights.
Commentary: The Comedic Interpretation
Of the two “Melinda” stories, the light-hearted, comedic tale is much more interesting, due to the talents of the actors on screen. Will Ferrell plays Hobie, a struggling actor married to an up-and-coming director played by Amanda Peet. Ferrell’s Hobie is charming and innocent, and he falls for Melinda (played by Radha Mitchell) when he realizes his marriage is going nowhere. Peet is equally likeable as the ambitious work-aholic filmmaker, striving to lock in the extra money to get her first feature into production. The dynamic between Ferrell and Mitchell is fun to watch, and the dialogue between the two rings truer than the dramatic counterpart of the film.
Commentary: The Dramatic Interpretation
The weaker of the two stories is the dramatic interpretation. Here, the characters are far less interesting, the dialogue far too stilted, and the acting too melodramatic. Aside from Mitchell’s performance, the ensemble around her was flat, stiff, and too over-the-top. Mitchell’s portrayal as the emotionally disturbed and suicidal Melinda really carried this portion of the film.
Overall, Melinda and Melinda explores some very human themes in very conventional ways, but presents them in a unique way.
5 1/2 out of 10