We were not put on this Earth to be dragged all the time.
You know from the very first line of this movie that it isn’t going to work. The central premise is a paradox and it’s origin is strained. There’s that cadence we’re so familiar with and played by faces we’ve seen before. And yet…
Melinda and Melinda (2004) is the tale of two tales. Some friends are eating, one writes comedies another writes tragedies and they ask “which is the foundation of human reality?” Well, says friend #3, I’ll give you a premise and you tell me if it’s comedy or tragedy. That’s the device. The premise is “a woman barges into a dinner party uninvited.” To ask the question, and then devote a movie to its answer, already tells us how things are going to end up, doesn’t it? Both stories are pretty conventional in their fields and only the expression is different. If I meditated longer on the stories, I think I’d probably come to find that each is an inversion of the other, but I don’t really want to devote that kind of time. After all, as I said, it isn’t going to work. Why?
Like Hobie’s (Will Ferrell) story, everyone seems to miss in their timing. Sometimes Woody Allen‘s dialogue is hilarious and the actors trip all over it, sometimes the actors finally hit their stride and Woody’s dialogue is too contrived. Let’s go one at a time.
The lead, Melinda (Radha Mitchell), gives such a JV performance, I can’t believe it. I don’t like to be harsh, especially about something as personal as a performance, but it’s rare to see a performance this bad outside a Lifetime movie. A big part of this is Allen’s fault. I want to see some history on the production because I get the impression that from ink-and-paper to the final edit couldn’t be separated by more than three months. Allen got one draft in and everyone got one take and one cover that’s a wrap. I say this because Allen’s scripts are usually so hilarious and the acting, especially in the case of Match Point (2005), so well done that a massive rush is the only adequate explanation. Example: he places a (melo)dramatic monologue–that is so unbelievable that people would either say it or listen to it uninterrupted in the first place–in a bedroom. They can’t even sit in comfort as they gesticulate wildly when they have to punch those dramatic phrases.
The reason Midnight in Paris was so great is that Owen Wilson synthesized Woody’s language into his own SoCal vibe, but Ferrell just apes Woody. Luckily, Ferrell doesn’t try a New York accent, but he’s clearly fighting a temptation here. It’s just such a distraction. Though, when you’ve got the source giving you direction, the lines must only reinforce the “right way” to do the part. Well, it wasn’t the right way. Ferrell is a giant of a man and clearly comfortable with himself. He has no call to have ticks and shaky gesticulations when making awkward conversation. Example: Greg asks, “What do you do for exercise?” “Tiddly winks,” says Hobie, “And an occasional anxiety attack.” It was badly done, Woody, badly done.
I could talk about the others, but that would be a waste of bytes. Theatrical–too theatrical–high school theater at that. I expected more of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has done brilliantly in so many movies–I especially recommend Dirty Pretty Things (2002)–but was, at best, middling in this.
It’s not the first or last time someone’s tried to blend tragedy and comedy (or to fail at it), but Allen had already done it (Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)) and far better than here. That’s not to say he can’t make the same movie over and over, Luc Besson and, more despicably, Michael Bay have made their careers on basically one device–in Besson’s case it’s a character, in Bay’s it’s a car crash. But Allen’s failed us in this movie by giving in to his greatest weakness–he doesn’t sound like most people. Most people don’t enunciate like his characters enunciate. They don’t use certain words–not necessarily big words–or the sentence goes too long. Example: “You know, life is manageable enough if you keep your hopes modest. The minute you allow yourself sweet dreams you run the risk of them crashing down.”