Director: Woody Allen
With: Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell
Runtime: 100 min
In a softly lit bistro, somewhere tres chic in Manhattan, two writers are making their case for the fundamental nature of the universe by each telling the same story but with a different slant: one presenting it as a tragedy, the other as comedy. Why yes! Woody Allen is involved, how on earth did you guess?
The conflict between tragedy and comedy has been at the heart of Allen’s work for the last thirty years, as we have seen him either turn away from his juvenile roots to focus upon more serious works, or neglect his comic genius to make third-rate Ingmar Bergman clones, depending on your point of view.
So an interesting basis for a film then? Certainly. Tons of fun though? Unfortunately not. The intial promise is not lived up to, indeed, the initial premise is not lived up to. This is a film that does not do what it says on the tin. Despite what the tag-line: “Life can be a comedy or a tragedy, it all depends on how you look at it” might make you think, this is not the same narrative presented in two different ways. Though there are parallels, these are clearly two entirely different stories. So life can betragic or comic depending on whether tragic or comic things happen? That’s pretty deep. Oh no, wait. No it’s not! It’s just a colossal waste of a pretty good idea.
Perhaps Allen shied away from telling exactly the same story twice because, his tragedies tending to be comic and his comedies tragic, if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. As it is you shouldn’t have much trouble understanding which is which, the differing hairstyles of Melinda (Radha Mitchell), the only cast member to feature in both strands, being enough to let you know what’s going on (long and lank = tragic, short and shiny = kooky).
So how are these two different strands then? Well, as is usually the case with Allen, the attempt at drama is clearly the inferior. Rich, pretty New Yorkers burbling on about their souls? Excuse me while I stop paying attention. The dialogue is horribly clunky and, though the piece is well acted, I wouldn’t have cared if they’d all decided to jumped through their large, penthouse windows. At one point I was actively wishing for it.
The comedy is a lot more engaging. Will Ferrell shines as theAllen-esque New York neurotic, and though the ending is at once entirely predictable and completely unrealistic, Allen’s trademark comic dialogue is enough to keep you interested along the way. You just wish he’d put some of it in the other half.