Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Then I first saw Melinda and Melinda at FACT Liverpool in May 2005. I’ve previously reviewed the film on this blog. Let’s read what I said: “I think what makes it a more watchable and probably accessible film is that it feels like a richer experience. The central conceit, of a story being told from a tragic or comic perspective from an initial stimulus is a discussion of the essence of drama. That discussion occurs throughout the film as the two stories echo each other, moments being mentioned or redescribed in differing configurations, with suicide played in the darkness and light in equal measure. It gives the piece a background bigger than the characters and their situations.”

Now When I was reviewing Hitchcock’s career, and reached his final film, Family Plot I registered disappointment that it wasn't a “summation” that it didn’t gather together his old motifs, underscore what he was trying to do with film. What I’d failed to notice was that he already had with North By Northwest with its wrong man plot, insignificant mcguffins and Cary Grant; everything after that was atypical. Rewatching Melinda and Melinda, his final New York film before visiting Europe, I have the same vibe; at the end of a five picture deal with Dreamworks, it’s almost as though he’d assumed he might not be making another film and so he’d decided to underline everything he’d done before, like a story arc reaching its emotional crescendo.

Which is why, as I noted in my contemporaneous review, everything seems so familiar – it’s deliberately so. I said I thought that tragic Melinda –- hereafter known as Melinda-T -- reminded me of Judy Davis (on reflection eerily so) – she’s being written that way. In that story, Chloe Sevigny is playing the Mia role with Johnny Lee Miller filling in for the likes of Gene Hackman or Sam Waterson. Comedy Melinda – hereafter known as Melinda-C -- is playing the Mia role in that story, with Will Ferrell as Woody, Amanda Peet as Diane Keaton and the role of the dentist would clearly have been picked up by Tony Roberts. Woody’s conjuring the ghosts of his past, but he’s a good enough scriptwriter to be able to evoke this without having to give too much direction.

But there are also structural and visual repetitions. As I noted the comedy/tragedy two-story aspect appears in countless of his films, some I realise now more subtly than others. It’s in both Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives, though the levels are far closer and more subtle than in Crimes and Misdemeanours. Melinda and Melinda is the first to name and make them specific. Melinda-T even talks about the kind of premeditated murder perpetrated in Crimes. Melinda-C is lured out to the Hampton’s as happens in Annie Hall. I notice now that Woody has also had specific geographic locations in mind when doing comedy and drama as though it depends on which side of his little speck of New York you live on as to how you’re life is likely to unfold.

He also makes plain his tendency to use jazz for comedy, classical for drama even to the point up including the switcheroo over the opening and closing titles. And almost all of the music either on track or at least composer level has appeared in one of his previous films, with Duke Ellington as his signature composer. He even seems to homage When Harry Met Sally by employing Ellington’s version of Don’t Get Around Much Anymore which featured so prominently in Reiner’s film (with an added note that when that scene on the side walk happened I had a lump in my throat). Now it’s easy to suggest that this is simply Woody running out of ideas, going over old ground. But they’re too pronounced for them to be simple recycling or coincidence; even after the fumbling Hollywood Ending he’s clearly too engaged with the process for all of these decision not to be deliberate signs.

Though I’m following the US release dates (or wherever the film was first shown) in the title brackets for these posts, Melinda and Melinda was released in the UK in 2005. At the close of that year, Lovefilm had a poll of the worst films of the preceding twelve months. Viewers ranked it fifth. Here is the list:

1. Revolver
2. Alexander
3. Fantastic Four
4. Be Cool
5. Melinda and Melinda
6. Valiant
7. House of Wax
8. Bewitched
9. Herbie: Fully Loaded
10. The Dukes of Hazzard

Less rubbish than Fantastic Four, more rubbish than Paris Hilton in House of Wax? It recieved a few mixed reviews, certainly, but really? The advertising didn’t help, probably with Woody’s participation, the more austerely dramatic elements downplayed and Will Ferrell made prominent on the poster suggesting something akin to straight romantic comedy. Steve Carrell also appears in the film too as advice guy in the Melinda-C story which I seem to recall being highlighted a lot too. That’s why I never to pay too much attention to advertising – it manipulates your expectations and usually in the wrong way.

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