Directed by: Woody Allen
2010, Rated: R
Woody Allen fans have learned to not expect much from the revered comedic filmmaker in the 21st century. Viewers either liked or hated 2005’s “Match Point.” There was no absolutely loving it or other in between, but it did affirm that Allen still has the auteur life in him. “Whatever Works” of 2009 was hard not to enjoy, mostly due to the part given to Larry David, but was still not exemplary of classic Allen either. His most recent, “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” does not add anything to his list of film achievements, but rather affirms that fans should regress to the Allen days of yore for the substance, filmmaking and storytelling they crave.
In the beginning of the film, the narrator imparts some words of wisdom from William Shakespeare, affirming that “life is a tale told by an idiot, filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In a nutshell, this becomes the theme that will resonate throughout the film.
In “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” not a character is without their array of problems. Each is struggling in career and love, and each is looking for a way out, despite their seemingly lavish, London-based lifestyles.
Viewers are first introduced to Helena (Gemma Jones), who seeks comfort and wisdom from a medium after her husband of many years, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) left her for a young blonde after deeming himself still full of years and his past partner as, well, simply old and washed up. The psychic predicts that Helena will meet a new man whom she is destined to meet and who will bring her happiness and reprieve from her loneliness.
Helena’s daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) has marital troubles of her own, as her husband Roy (Josh Brolin) is a novelist who hit the big time with his first book and has since been trying to finish another bestseller, years later. He mooches off his wife and mother-in-law, playing the tortured artist card until it is buried in the ground.
Both Sally and Roy feel that their needs are not being met in the relationship due to constant fighting and worries about money, and soon Sally realizes her feelings for her attractive gallery director boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas), who has power and sway in an industry that she too is passionate about. Roy creepily finds a new lustful object conveniently in the building across the way in Dia (Freida Pinto), who is studying classical guitar in red-colored negligees and seems to be the perfect distraction as he works half-heartedly on the next novel.
Alfie’s love interest Charmaine (Lucy Punch), is a blossoming “actress” who is all too eager to dig into his credit cards and come home with lavish furs as long as she keeps him popping those little blue bills.
What seems to lack most in Allen’s newest film is actual creative substance and the method of telling the stories of privileged people’s lives in a way that makes the viewer want to sympathize with them. There is none of that in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” but rather lots of grimacing on behalf of the 75-year-old filmmaker for the things that he now believes he can get away with without critique or utter exasperation. The jokes simply do not deliver here, and I would have to struggle to remember a time when I actually laughed at an intended joke. I also recall an individual walking out of the theater yelling in frustration, “well, that was no Manhattan!” Right you are, angry stranger, right you are.
Somehow, Dia falls for Roy’s “I couldn’t help but notice you undressing across the way” line, and inevitably brings him home to mom and dad. Charmaine is a gold-digger, but cares for her keeper nonetheless. In the end, most are as unhappy as how they began their stories and journeys, just a bit more weathered from time, strife and more people who cannot reciprocate their love. That is, except for Helena, who falls for a stout occult bookstore owner who is deemed to be destined to be with her. This leads this reviewer to believe that perhaps Allen’s intent with the film was to impart the wisdom that one should be happy with what they have and not seek better, because they could end up more depressed, sullied and bitter than they were to begin with.
Save your theater ticket money and rent “Match Point,” a more recent flick of Allen’s that proves that the filmmaker is worth his salt and has the ability to shift gears as a storyteller and do more than just project New Yorkers’ problems onscreen. Or view “Annie Hall,” which gives viewers the exact opposite advice that “Stranger” does, and in a way that will actually offer a few well-earned, genuine laughs.