Sunday, March 27, 2005

Melinda & Melinda

It says something about my life that I am very focused on the living spaces of movie characters, in the way I used to obsess about their clothing. I still look at clothes - at least the women - but I can still see the apartment Julia Roberts' character had in Closer but couldn't tell you anything she wore, or even, what her character's name was. I don't think I ever said how much I hated that film, but that's old news, so let's move on, shall we?

Melinda & Melinda. The opening of a Woody Allen movie doesn't seem quite like the event it did when I first moved to NYC, but there still is a particular buzz when you are online at opening weekend - somewhat possessive, like we have the right to determine if it's good or not, the rest of the country (and the critics) be damned, because he's filming just for us, no? So we'll see it ourselves, thank you. With this one, I worried that Will Ferrell fans might mistakenly wander in, but I think for that crowd the name "Woody Allen" is familiar enough to be off-putting. That wasn't the case with "Spanglish" - even when I saw it, a few weeks into its run, there were audience members who left early, obviously disappointed that it wasn't really an Adam Sandler movie. Of course that was in a Manhattan multiplex - not our small neighborhood theater, which shows a balance of independent and family films to please the burgeoning gentrified-with-kids neighborhood. A lot of the people in the theater could be in a Woody Allen film. If he ever left Manhattan.

My overall review of the film is... eh. An interesting concept, to tell a story from both the tragic and comic standpoints, and both held my interest. But I don't think either was strong enough to stand on its own; it was the connection between them and the regular back and forth that made the film work in its way. You don't notice how tedious something is if you're shuttled out of it at intervals.

Will Ferrell did a bad Woody impression, which was sad, but his counter part in the other version - Jonny Lee Miller - was horrible. He looks familiar, but the only thing on his imdb profile I can think I might remember him from is "Prime Suspect 3" - the fact that he's British solves a lot of the mystery about why he talked the way he did. I couldn't tell if he was supposed to have an accent or just be an insufferable snob, but whatever it was it was inconsistent throughout.

Chloe Sevigny? Yeah, she's always interesting, and I like the fact that she's rather plain-looking. (Sometimes I think she's blatantly unattractive - and Woody has a few of those shots quite prominent in the film.) What a letdown, though, that she struggles for several scenes with taking a certain action (trying to be non-spoilerish here, in case someone is actually reading this) and then it happens off screen and all we see are the effects it has on others. Typically Woody, in my experience, although I suppose there is something valid in wanting to focus on the processes around the act (the agonizing before and after) and not the act itself.

I like Radha Mitchell, who really makes the two different Melindas distinctive (and not just the curly/straight hair, although that was a nice cheat to get me familiar with them.) She has a Mia quality that is subtle, not an overwhelming copy, but enough of the neurosis and self-centeredness that works well in Woody's main female characters. She's been getting positive reviews, too (in the mire of midling reviews the film itself is getting) so I imagine this will be a good for her.

One more actor of note - Chiwetel Ejiofor. I recognized him but couldn't place him, but I think it's from "Love, Actually." So another Brit, with whom I also had accent issues. His character professes to be from Harlem but there is something really off about the way he speaks - and I'm not suggesting that an African-American male from Harlem can't speak mainstream English, but the point is that it wasn't mainstream American English. I chalked it up to Woody's insular world, where everyone talks like either Brooklyn Jews or upper east side trust fund kids, but now I know it was the British thing. I liked him, though, mostly because I don't think he's attractive, at least not in the movie-star Denzel-ish sense, so he seemed more believeable, and a good fit for awkward Chloe. (Contrast him to his counterpart in the comic story - a hot biracial-looking dude whose character name I can't remember so I can't look him up, but he might be the cast member that imdb lists as one of People's Most Beautiful People.)

I don't think this is a movie for anyone but die-hard Woody Allen fans, though. Oh, and Manhattan real estate obsessives, like me - the loft that Chloe & Jonny Lee just moved into? Divine. The artsy penthouse that doubles as Chiwetel Ejiofor's studio (with a plot-centric balcony overlooking the city)? I'm salivating.


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