Melinda and Melinda

Ryan Wenzel

Melinda and Melinda,” the newest film from comic genius Woody Allen, opens with a conversation among playwrights and intellectuals in an idealized New York diner. The question driving the discussion: Is life essentially comic or tragic? A consensus cannot be met, and to prove the futility of the question, one of the thinkers tells the story of a destroyed woman who tries to piece her life together and asks whether the story material is better suited for a comedy or a tragedy.

Enter Rahda Mitchell as Melinda. Having separated from her husband and lost custody of her two children, Melinda stumbles into New York with nothing but a suitcase of belongings. The film alternates between two possible stories — one a dark story of self-destruction, the other a light tale of romance.

One of the most glaring problems in the movie, sadly, is Will Ferrell, whose character develops an intense attraction to Melinda in the comedic half. While a formidable comedian, Ferrell’s lines aren’t conducive to the goofy, loveable style he perfected on “Saturday Night Live.” Ferrell seems to be reciting lines originally written for a neurotic, whiney and almost obnoxious character that, 20 years ago, would have been played by Allen himself.

Another unfortunate shortcoming of “Melinda and Melinda” — and in all of Allen’s releases in the last few years — is the cinematic style. His films have moved away from the understated, documentary-esque tone that marked classics like “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” in favor of the staged, Hollywood feel present in most of today’s blockbusters.

But even though the film has its flaws, you have to respect Allen for continuing to write inventive, truly unique screenplays. “Melinda and Melinda” won’t be a classic, but it’s a fresh, intriguing departure from the boring, mindless comedies that have become so common.

— Ryan Wenzel