Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Will Ferrell, Jonny Lee Miller, Radha Mitchell
Director: Woody Allen
All the usual Allen-isms are employed in the phobic one’s latest – set in New York and exploring his standard set of neuroses, this time the filmmaker laces it with an original twist that lays the foundations for an interesting, and charming, little film.
Four people are having dinner in a Manhattan bistro when two of them, opposing playwrights, hit on a discussion about the dual nature of human drama. Both proceed to spin different tales to highlight their point and so a drama, and a romantic comedy, are compared and contrasted. The one thing they have in common is the central character, the enigmatic Melinda (played splendidly by Australian actress Radha Mitchell), who is fond of making bizarre entrances at contrasting sets of dinner parties – and so the play off begins. Amongst the characters who populate the Melindas’ worlds are ELF’s Will Ferrell as a romantic lead and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has such a grace and ease on screen that he is a pleasure to watch, as a romantic pianist. Fellow Brit Jonny Lee Miller plays a womanising, alcoholic actor down on his luck married to Melinda’s old school friend Laurel (Chloe Sevigny).
Allen, a man with ideas coming out of his ears, has cleverly and resourcefully squeezed two films into one. Initially the restaurant discussions take themselves a little too seriously, but the concept is lightweight enough. Events seem at times theatrical in acting, dialogue and set pieces, no doubt deliberately, given that the film’s scenario is set up by two theatre playwrights. But this is sometimes a risk on a film screen.
Another flaw of this is that the genres of tragedy and comedy are quite often merged – one could realistically argue that this is a point Allen is trying to make – but the sheer stretching of the drama to the realms of implausibility has made the tragedy funnier than the romantic comedy. Allen, of course naturally known for his comedy, hasn’t quite been able to control himself and may have muddied his point somewhat. But a strong concept makes this film enjoyable, charming and funny, complemented with a well-selected classical and jazz soundtrack, as one may expect from this man of many talents.