The first thing someone (me) might notice about Melinda and Melinda is the person of color on the DVD cover. It brings up a complex issue of race and Woody Allen's vision of New York (and the world). I don't particularly feel up to the task of pursuing it, but I did find this dialogue between two random and anonymous strangers that I will let stand in place of any comment I might make. I do think the issue is an interesting one, and my contribution to the conversation, if I were technologically savvy, would be to embed a clip from Everyone Says I Love You right here: [x]. Obviously, I am not technologically savvy, so I will have to describe the scene. First of all, Everyone Says I Love You is full of diverse ethnicities. But my favorite example is from the very end where the narrator says she has recently been seeing a rapper and there's a shot of him with actual rapping which is so unconventional for a Woody Allen movie.
Now that that's over with, we can look at the actual movie which has nothing to do with race. The premise is that the same story can be told as a tragedy or a comedy, depending on your outlook. The ramification being that it is a microcosm of life. But first of all, it isn't the same story, and secondly, I didn't find the tragedy to be tragic nor the comedy funny.
I don't know if this movie would have been better if it had obeyed its own premise more precisely. It would have become redundant with slight differentiations enhancing each element. Or it could have been Rashomon. Because the idea is that you can read the same story as either tragic or comic. Not that you can retell the skeleton of a story two completely different ways with different results. But that was what Melinda and Melinda did.
Tragedy, in the words of Richard Dreyfus from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, is when "the bad end unhappily, the good unluckily." I'm not going to say that the Melinda of the tragic story deserved what she got, but she did drive herself there. I failed to find it compelling or convincing as a tragic story. "I'm one of those heroines too high-strung for existence on this planet," Melinda admits. "Although I brought my worst troubles on myself." And the only thing funny about the comedy part was Will Ferrell who probably would have been even funnier if he hadn't just been doing Woody Allen.
You'd think that this would be the ultimate expression of Woody Allen's oeuvre considering he is always pitting his humor against pathos. There are his funny movies and there are his serious movies. But never before has he so extremely attempted to divest them of each other diametrically. Which is what, unfortunately, keeps it from congealing into a whole.