Here's the premise for the new Woody Allen's movie "Melinda and Melinda." Two playwrights argue about comedy versus drama; and then we get two versions of the same story that revolve around the same character-a young woman named Melinda. One story is borderline tragic, the other silly and romantic.
What makes this so intriguing is that Allen himself has spent the last 25 years zigzagging between comedy and drama. He knows most people still cherish his surreal sex-crazed slapstick movies like "Bananas" - and it's easy to see why. Just a shot or two brings back all the delight. But Allen calls drama the higher form, the one that elevates you and clobbers you emotionally. Comedy-that's just a welcome little diversion on the way to the grave.
So "Melinda and Melinda" could be a great way for Allen, after 35 feature films, to explore the two sides of his artistic temperament-and maybe, at age 69, dissolve some boundaries.
The problem is that his inspiration for both comedy and drama now comes from the same stagnant pool. His drama features young Manhattanites in absurdly huge apartments uttering bleak statements about their unfulfilled longings. His comedy features young Manhattanites in absurdly huge apartments jabbering silly statements about their unfulfilled longings. One story ends sadly and makes you feel bad, one ends with a smooch and makes you feel good. And there it is, folks: two lousy movies for the price of one.
It's not news that Allen's ear for drama is three-quarters deaf-his dialogue sounds like bad translations from the Swedish. But his ear for comedy is mostly gone, too, and Will Farrell becomes the latest in a long line of gifted actors to emasculate himself by doing a lame Woody Allen imitation. The brilliant Australian actress Radha Mitchell is the only reason to see the movie.
The saddest thing about Melinda and Melinda is that one of the great comic artists of our time has such low esteem for comedy, which can be just as profound as drama, as last year's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" demonstrated. The critic Clive James once wrote that jokes are just common sense dancing, whereas Allen sees them as distracting child's play-nonsense. Here's hoping in his next movie, the drama is funnier and the comedy more serious.
About Woody Allen
The actor-director-writer has been making movies since 1966, when he directed "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" His big break came almost a decade later with 1977's "Annie Hall," starring himself and Diane Keaton. That film earned him a Best Director Oscar and Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
But the New York-based star wasn't there to accept. Allen made his first and only appearance at Academy Award ceremonies in the spring of 2002, when he urged filmmakers to continue to make movies in New York in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorism attack.
That was the same year he made his first visit to the Cannes Film Festival, to pick up a lifetime achievement award.
His signature style produces movies set in Manhattan, mixed and released in monaural sound, with beginning and ending credits set in white on black with jazz playing in the background.
He has made nearly a movie a year since 1969, among them, "Take The Money and Run," "Play It Again, Sam," "Stardust Memories," "Broadway Danny Rose," "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Hannah and Her Sisters."