Saturday, March 26, 2005

Melinda and Melinda: Mini-review

We saw Melinda and Melinda last night in Montclair, and walked away in quite a good mood. The actors were interesting to watch, especially Radha Mitchell, Will Farrell, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chloe Sevigny. The gimmick of the film -- the same story told two ways, one as tragedy, the other as comedy -- doesn't blow one away, but it does offer a group of very talented actors a chance to show off their talent. Even if Woody Allen's script and his ideas aren't especially fresh, he gives his cast room to work, and it is the actors who give the film its sense of elegance and sophistication. It is the actors who carry the film.

I remember reading A.O. Scott's review a week or two ago, and thinking, "man, that's harsh." But then I just re-read it, and realized that he's actually quite appreciative on the whole, and in fact seems to get the film just about right. (It was actually the Slate review that was too harsh. David Edelstein seems to be holding Woody Allen's age against him, in ways that I think are unfair and perhaps even age-ist.)

An interesting thing: this Woody Allen film has two black actors in "starring" roles. Now, Allen is controversial for many things, both on and off the screen. But Scott mentions one aspect of Woody Allen that's actually not been controversial enough, and that is that he's somehow made 30 or so films about New Yorkers who all happen to be white -- this in a city where blacks, hispanics, and asians make up about 60% of the population. Melinda and Melinda has not one, but two significant roles for black actors:

In the comedy, Hobie falls in love with Melinda, while in the tragedy she and Laurel become rivals for the affections of a gallant pianist and composer with the extraordinary name of Ellis Moonsong, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Love, Actually," "Dirty Pretty Things").

Mr. Ejiofor's presence, along with that of Daniel Sunjata in a smaller, similar role in the film's comic half, is perhaps the biggest shock in "Melinda and Melinda." In the fifth decade of his career as a New York filmmaker, Mr. Allen has written not one but two black characters into a movie, without sensationalism or stereotyping. Better late than never, I suppose.

I really like Ejiofor in the movie (and he was amazing in Mike Leigh's movie about illegal immigrants in London, Dirty Pretty Things), but I don't know if I can let Woody Allen off the hook on this one quite as easily as Scott does.


Anonymous said...

Mike Leigh's Dirty Pretty Things??!!

Try Stephen Frears.

9:26 AM  

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