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Why Woody Why?
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For over ten years, Woody Allen films have reeked of contempt for human beings. During his periods when Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow acted as his muses (“Play It Again Sam” to “Manhattan Murder Mystery”), he found the simple joys in the human condition. His characters were quirky and neurotic, however rarely did you find a cardboard, crass individual. Philanderers (Michael Caine in “Hannah and Her Sisters”) follow their hearts, even if they’re led astray; boozers (Nick Apollo Forte in “Broadway Danny Rose”) have the ghosts of their past successes pouring them drinks; even murderers (Martin Landau in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) deliberate the ethics of their crimes. But post-Keaton/Farrow, most of his films – with the exception of “Bullets Over Broadway” -- are crammed with either irrationally destructive or cruelly sadistic characters. Allen’s latest, “Melinda and Melinda,” resumes this retrograde period.

Two playwrights ponder the comic and tragic elements of a simple premise – a young, beautiful, confused woman enters a dinner party unannounced. The comedy playwright sees a world of one-liners and pratfalls as unhappily married Will Farrell falls for the pixie Melinda (Radha Mitchell). The tragedian unleashes a drug addicted, suicidal Melinda upon a prickly cocoon of Park Avenue debutantes and their self-involved husbands. She is an atom bomb that disintegrates the fragile threads keeping everyone secure. Her instability quickly rubs off on her high school friend (Chloë Sevigne) and alcoholic actor husband (Jonny Lee Miller) forcing their veneer of happiness to crackle.

The premise is a clever one and in many ways, Allen manages to make the most of the situations. Both Melindas follow similar paths, yet attitude veers both versions of Melinda on opposite directions. He utilizes similar props (a magic lantern, a single doctor seeking to date Melinda, a trip to the race track) in both stories to highlight the Melinda’s varied facets in each story.

It’s saddening though that Allen fills neither story with a loving spirit. His dramatic tale will remind some of the superior “Interiors” (Melinda draws the parallels closer when she admits her suicidal mother was an interior decorator, as Geraldine Page was in the earlier work), but there’s a lack of complexity or compassion for his characters here. Page, in particular, portrayed a dark, haunted, doomed woman, yet there’s a respect and pity Allen appears to grant her, one sorely missed in Melinda’s characterization. Mitchell provides the pathos that Allen appears to have left out of the script and should be commended.

To leaden the dramatic story further, Allen weighs down his players with such pretentious lines as “Who wouldn’t benefit from a second-go-around” and other lines that roll off the tongue as swiftly as a Danny Kaye tongue twister.

The second world, the comic one, is a lighthearted romp with some particularly clever zingers, mostly spoken by Farrell. One scene proves to be hilarious as insecure Farrell spends the afternoon with a pompous dentist (Josh Brolin). You can hear Allen firing the zingers with Farrell only as a mouthpiece, which can be distracting, but Farrell’s perfect timing manages to nail each line regardless. The best moments allow Farrell to be himself and not the Woody persona, such as his jealous spying on Melinda once she has found love and getting his robe caught in the door.
Also worth mentioning, Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Love Actually”) is dynamic in the dramatic tale as a struggling composer caught between two volatile women.

It breaks a Woody Allen fan’s heart every time a new Allen film arrives. Each story sparks interest, with its eclectic cast and intriguing premises, but as the movie unfolds, this new film does not puncture your funny bone like “Sleeper” and “Bananas,” or tug at your conscience or soul like “ Manhattan” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Nowadays it doesn’t only appear that Allen removes the heart from his films, but that his heart isn’t in the making of his pictures either. Grade: B-

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