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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (DVD)
Member Name: Jake Speed
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (DVD)
Advantages: Well acted, interesting
Disadvantages: Doesn't amount to much
After the summer glow of Vicky Cristina Barcelona and a return to New York for Whatever Works, it was back to London for Woody Allen with 2010's You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger - the title a prediction by a fortune teller in the film and a less than subtle reference to the tall dark stranger everyone will eventually meet in the end. This is another frustratingly adequate later Woody Allen picture that is neither great or particularly bad but merely sits somewhere in the middle. It's another Gatsby riff on upper middle class unhappy people, unrequited love and the meaningless nature of life and how we have to create constant delusions to make it bearable and stop ourselves from jumping out of the window. It begins with Leon Redbone's vocal rendition of When You Wish Upon a Star (a deliberately ironic choice of course) and revolves around a loosely connected series of characters. Roy Channing (Josh Brolin) and his wife Sally (Naomi Watts) are an unhappy bickering couple living in London. Roy is a failed novelist who once wrote a successful book a while back and is now anxiously waiting for news from his publisher about his latest manuscript. In a rather contrived development, Roy notices the beautiful musician Dia (Freida Pinto) in the building window opposite and eventually arranges to take her out to lunch. The fact that he's been gawping at her from his window and is a bit of loser doesn't seem to present a problem. Somewhat unbelievable. Sally meanwhile has a crush on her gallery-owner boss Greg (Antonio Banderas) but he seems to be having an affair with someone else. Sally's mother Helena (Gemma Jones) has problems of her own because her husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has left her for a much younger woman - in this case a prostitute named Charmaine (Lucy Punch).
Alfie is having what could be termed a late life crisis. He's capped his teeth and aquired a fake tan. With his new girlfriend he is trying to cheat age and feel young again. A fortune teller (Pauline Collins) tells Sally she will meet a "tall dark stranger" but the only man she seems to meet is the shorty dumpy Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), the owner of an esoteric bookshop. In the usual Woody Allen fashion, these circuitous relationships, infidelities and dalliances play out with one or two romantic twists. Will any of the characters come out of the story happy? Like much of his later work, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is again not the most memorable Woody Allen film and feels like a mish mash of recurring themes and older pictures. There are distinct strains of Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives here but they were simply much better films. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger begins with Shakespeare's famous Macbeth quote about life being "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." This is Allen's own view of life and a rather apt quote for a film that doesn't amount to an awful lot and never really resolves itself in an very satisfactory way. I think that the use of narration in Allen's later films is becoming borderline annoying. It was fine to have Allen narrating himself in Annie Hall but it's a device that is maybe too overused in modern films and it does come off as awfully pretentious at times as Allen's dialogue doesn't always sound natural when spoken aloud.
His jokes are always great (although this isn't a very funny film) but his screenplays often contain flourishes that feel like they should be read rather than listened to. He seems less interested in London here than in his other recent visits and never really throws his camera around the city or looks for interesting things to shoot. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger has a lot of interiors and leafy streets and could be any big city. The film is low-key and ensemble and often feels anachronistic (there are the usual selection of old vintage songs on the soundtrack) and hermitically sealed from the real world in the usual Woody fashion but it's never boring and has just about enough dramatic juice to make it worth your while. As ever, Allen has assembled an impressive cast although some fare better than others. Josh Brolin is fine as the dumpy and bitter novelist and (thankfully) less of a Woody Allen impersonator than others who have gone before him. Some of the lines Allen gives him are not terribly authentic though. "I've been exploring the erogenous zones of this delightful creature," says Roy when he introduces Dia to his friends. Would anyone ever say that in real life in that situation? It would have been more realistic if Dia had immediately punched him in the face. Naomi Watts probably fares best here with a perfect English accent and her scenes with Banderas are good although Banderas never feels terribly realistic thrown into the middle of this film as her suave boss.
You do get that slightly weird thing here (obviously it only feels weird if you are British) of seeing a host of familiar domestic faces in one of Woody's London films again. People that ordinarily you would never expect to see in a Woody Allen film. Pauline Collins, Meera Syal, Philip Glenister, Anna Friel, amongst others. Anthony Hopkins is rather affecting as the desperate Alfie, trying to roll back the clock and find romantic fulfillment before it is too late. He gets far more than he bargained for though and will probably discover that money can't buy you happiness or love. Hopkins seems too intelligent to be such an idiot but then the film is about personal delusions. One slight problem I think is that Sydney Pollack was more convincing as the life crisis with much younger girlfriend character in Husbands and Wives and had a much better script to work with. Gemma Jones is excellent though as Helena and Allen seems to like her so much he almost overuses her in the film. Helen reminds one of previous (elder) woman characters in Allen films who to take stock and assess their life again or go through an emotional crisis. Gena Rowlands in Another Woman and Geraldine Page in Interiors. You will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is well acted and watchable but ultimately not much more than that. You don't get any extras with Woody Allen films apart from a trailer and at the time of writing can buy this for about a fiver.
Summary: Average Woody Allen film