Every time I see a Woody Allen movie, I hope for a glimmer of Annie Hall, Sleeper, Bananas, Broadway Danny Rose, Radio Days, Hannah And Her Sisters, Husbands And Wives, Crimes And Misdemeanors, Bullets Over Broadway - heck, even Take The Money And Run or Play It Again Sam. Melinda and Melinda was none of them; not even close.
I think I've seen too many Woody Allen movies so that l'm hyper-aware of his characters' perfectly choreographed stutters and quirks; I've seen them in different form over and over again so often that I no longer see real people conveying emotions, but, instead, Woody the puppeteer manipulating the actors with strings from above. The actors' mouths move but I only hear Woody's voice.
I'd read good things about Will Ferrell in this part, but, again, I just see Will playing Woody's nervous character, with all the same nervous ticks, phobias and comic timing; he appeared to be doing a cutesy-neurotic imitation of Woody - imagine Ferrell's Elf character with phobias and a frustrated sex drive.
And the two parallel story lines were no help; neither the tragic version nor the comic version interested me. Melinda as a tragic character didn't get my sympathy. And Melinda's comic version simply seemed crazed and pathetic, and, unfortunately, not too humorous.
Regarding the other actors -
Radha Mitchell: Probably did the best she could with the characters written (both versions of Melinda).
Chloe Sevigny: Has so little charisma, she sapped my energy; every time she appeared on screen my eyes grew heavy and I felt the urge to yawn.
Amanda Peet: Came off as a low-budget Diane Keaton. (note to Woody: There's one Diane Keaton.)
Johnny Lee Miller: What's up with casting him as Chloe Sevigny's husband? His character plays an actor, and is referred to during the film as "the most charismatic actor" during his university days, but he just comes off as a waspy, whiney slime-ball. Wow! Horrible casting there. Who did he sleep with to get that part?
And every other actor was poorly cast, in my opinion, for parts that were all unrealistic and unsympathetic. If these are the type of people (selfish, pompous, whiney wasps) Woody knows in Manhattan, I'm staying in Los Angeles.
When I can feel my butt going numb and begin to wriggle in my seat - as I began doing in the first third of Melinda And Melinda - that means I am aware of my surroundings (I am in a movie theater watching actors struggle), rather than immersed, a disembodied part of the experience, lost in a story. My butt test never fails; if I need to wriggle it, I'm not into the movie. Then I begin noticing the too expensive Manhattan apartment, the stilted speaking, the agitated movements... this was a real butt wriggler!
With all that said, the two women seated next to me seemed to enjoy it. They got quite a few laughs out of Melinda And Melinda's comic portion, but they also reeked of alcohol fumes...which might explain their enthusiasm. Maybe after a couple shots of tequila I, too, would have liked the movie.
Here's Roger Ebert's review of Melinda and Melinda. Ebert seems to believe that Allen's work is beyond the general public's understanding, and only a cinema aficionado such as himself can fully understand the film's nuances and deeper meaning. No, Mr. Ebert, I did understand the concept. I simply didn't like much about it, and not because I was frustrated there was no beginning or ending, as Ebert mentions.