Melinda and Melinda
If ever a movie set out to prove there are two sides to every story, Melinda and Melinda would be it. During a conversation at a New York restaurant, Max and Sy (Larry Pine and Wallace Shawn) are given the same premise for a story: An uninvited guest named Melinda (Radha Mitchell) crashes a dinner party. As both are accomplished authors, each spins a yarn with their own twist.
Max knits together a tragic tale of a divorcee who drops in on an old friend and disrupts the meal in progress. While Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) takes pity on the destitute Melinda, her husband Lee (Jonny Lee Miller) is not very welcoming. At first it appears he is uncomfortable having the mentally unstable woman for a houseguest because of her dependency on cigarettes, prescription drugs and alcohol. Nor does he have any sympathy for her self-inflicted plight (it was she who was unfaithful to her wedding vows) that resulted in her losing custody of her children and attempting suicide. However, it soon becomes obvious Lee has his own adulterous reasons for not wanting anyone hanging around the apartment when his wife is away at work.
For Sy, the fabric of life is comedy. His Melinda, also a divorcee, comes to Manhattan to build a new life. After downing twenty-eight sleeping pills, she staggers into her neighbor's apartment looking for some Vodka to help settle her stomach. Unfortunately she arrives just in time to vomit. Although that seems to take care of the overdose problem, it completely destroys Susan's (Amanda Peet) opportunity to schmooze with a wealthy guest she hopes will finance her film project, and distracts her husband, Hobie (Will Ferrell), long enough to burn the gourmet creation the couple planned to serve for supper. As ridiculous as her introduction into their lives may be, it has far reaching effects when Hobie begins to entertain romantic feelings for the flirtatious Melinda, and Susan decides to explore other ways to attract the attention of her possible investor.
If you are beginning to think the two plots sound remarkably similar, and you're not sure which should make you laugh and which should make you cry, you're not alone. As the accounts unfold, the threads between them become more and more intertwined. This is partly due to editing scenes from each story back-to back without any introduction or explanation (Melinda is the only common cast member between the two, so I tried to keep the things sorted out by using her hairdo as a clue: curly and chaotic for the crazy, sorrowful one; straight and smooth for the happy, breezy one.) It is also the product of a large ensemble cast (it's hard enough keeping track of who everyone is, let alone remembering what script they belong to.)
But the real problem is the overlapping sentiments. The deep and dramatic side is populated by so many dysfunctional characters making just as many ludicrous choices, that it comes off feeling like a silly melodrama. On the other hand, the inclusion of subjects as serious as substance abuse and infidelity, even when treated humorously, are really no laughing matter.
Written and directed by Woody Allen, the movie bears his signature style throughout. His satirical tapestry weaves in a few other details as well, like a confession of premeditated murder, anorexic attitudes, recreational gambling, mild profanities, terms of Deity used as expletives, sexual dialogue, the depiction of a passionate couple caught in bed (only heads and bare shoulders are shown), and some very distasteful remarks about sexual relations with a pregnant woman.
Few teens will be interested in a movie about the premature midlife crisis of thirty-somethings, and for their parents that is just as well. Except for the artistic merits of Radha Mitchell's contrasting performances, the movie has little to offer in the way of positive messages or redeemable traits. Failing even to create an emotional connection, viewers are most likely to walk away from this tale of two Melindas not caring whether she had the best of times or the worst of times.