American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" begins with friends having dinner in a Manhattan restaurant. One of the friends is played by Wallace Shawn, who (Allen's audiences will know) has had a famous restaurant meal or two. Shawn is a playwright, debating another playwright (Larry Pine) about whether the world is essentially tragic or comic. They devise two versions of a story, which changes in details and tone according to whether it is comedy or tragedy, and the film cuts between those possibilities.
The exercise involves two couples, both disrupted by the unexpected entrance of a character named Melinda (played by Radha Mitchell). For Susan the independent filmmaker (Amanda Peet) and her husband, Hobie (Will Ferrell), an out-of-work actor, she is the downstairs neighbor. For the rich woman Laurel (Chloe Sevigny) and her husband, Lee (Jonny Lee Miller), an alcoholic actor, she is Laurel's old college friend.
In both cases, Melinda is the catalyst for adultery, which does not play out the same way in the two stories. Indeed, almost all the characters except Melinda are different in the two stories, because you would cast a comedy differently than a tragedy. Unexpected characters like Ellis Moonsong (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a composer, turn up to supply the third point in two romantic triangles at once.
From time to time, Allen reminds us that all of these characters are being imagined by people at dinner, and all of their feelings are being created out of thin air. The film's last shot, a bold masterstroke, leaves this perfectly clear, and strands us looking at the closing credits, which as always are played over some good traditional jazz.