Movie Reviews
11:01 am
Wed March 30, 2005

Melinda and Melinda

The best Woody in years.

Manhattan still drives Woody Allen crazy: Urbanites are prey to ambition and lust, pride and diffidence and even sound like Woody with their halting sentences, paranoid affectations, and occasionally witty lines tossed off like the dregs of their grande lattes. Melinda and Melinda is a petting zoo of needy moderns who most of all want to find love, which eludes them right up to the last cliffhanging moment.

Alvy Singer and Annie Hall are the best known of Allen's angst-ridden city dwellers, but the new Woodies are every bit as screwed up if not more knowing about the quagmires their marriages and professions have become. The setup is twin parallel stories starting from the same incident reflecting separately the tragic and the comic possibilities.

It all begins with a discussion at a restaurant table among four sophisticates about life being either tragic or comic. Sy (Wallace Shawn), a comedy writer, argues that people need laughter to overcome life's essential pain (difficult to separate Shawn from the memory of his discussion in "My Dinner with Andre"). Max (Larry Pine) says that life is absurd and therefore tragic. So each tells the same story differently about an uninvited guest, one story a romantic comedy, the other a tragic tale of a desperate loner. The film's jazzy score is an effective complement to frenetic city life.

Will Farrell as a neurotic husband does the best faux Allen yet in his films. His lines are vintage Woody, tossed-off self-deprecation with a worldly wise guy subtext. One of the best lines comes from Susan (Amanda Peet), a director, who discloses the title of her newest film, "The Castration Sonata," putting "male sexuality in perspective."

The Woodman returns in fine form to take on Aristotle and try to fulfill his own hope when he said over a quarter century ago, "If my film makes one more person miserable, I'll feel I've done my job." His tragedy has such ample comedy, I predict you won't be miserable.

This is the best Woody in years.