Film Review: Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger”
October 12, 2010 10 Comments
I am not a Chicago Cubs fan, but I would imagine that being a fan of the iconic Woody Allen is a lot like being crazy about the historic baseball franchise that has been without a championship for over a century now. Each spring brings with it a sense of hope and optimism – that this will be the year all of the baseball demons will be put to rest…only to have those dreams squashed come October. For the past decade or so, I have felt the same about a new Woody Allen release. I read about it, watch the trailer, eagerly anticipate its release, and finally see it – only to exit the theatre feeling (more times than not) quite disappointed and a bit frustrated. Such has been the case with films like Scoop, Melinda and Melinda, the dreadful Anything Else and a number of others since 1999’s wonderful Sweet and Lowdown. But, like the crazed Cubs fan, I remain cautiously optimistic with each go-around. Such was the case going in to see his latest work, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Mr. Allen’s 41st film.
Woody’s latest “tale of sound and fury signifying nothing” (stated as such by the film’s narrator) is an entertaining, well-written, thoughtful film that stands out above most of the filmmaker’s most recent, mediocre works. It isn’t a comedy, though there are a number of humorous moments. The feel is more of a lightweight drama. Material-wise, he’s not covering any new ground here. Again, we are introduced to couples struggling in their marriages, the artist’s ambition & toil for success, the afterlife, adultery, and the inevitability of growing old. However, the characters here ring more genuine and are more engaging than most of the recent characters who have spoken Woody’s words. The dialogue is not as stilted nor as dated as previous scripts, coming off as more realistic and lifelike. The editing and tempo here are also first-rate, moving everything along quite smoothly. And as always, Woody manages to bring in some superlative actors to frame his ensemble. Sometimes these hodgepodges of big-name celebrities don’t come off and feels uneven – maybe someone isn’t particularly appropriate for a certain role. Not here. All the main players fit their roles flawlessly and there a handful of scenes that capture an absolute sense of authenticity that it is riveting to watch.
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) have been married for years, but Alfie is becoming increasingly aware of his own mortality. Helena only serves to be a constant nagging reminder of this fact, so he leaves abruptly her and tries to find his long-lost youth. In the process, he moves on and quickly marries the very young Charmaine (Judy Punch), a hard-edged prostitute who Alfie wants to give a more luxurious life to. Their daughter Sally (a very strong Naomi Watts) is unhappily married to Roy (Josh Brolin), a writer whose first book some time ago made quite a stir. Roy though has been struggling for years with his latest novel, trying desperately not to become a one-hit wonder. The pressure has put quite a strain on the marriage as they both privately seek out possible substitutes. She, with her new art gallery boss (Antonio Banderas, refreshingly effective) and he, with the mysterious and beautiful stranger (Freida Pinto) who has just moved in to the building across the street. Gemma Jones is especially magnificent here as the flighty mother who has become obsessed with everything her spiritual advisor tells her. She and her son-in-law have never seen eye-to-eye and the scenes with both Jones and Brolin make for great drama. Brolin fits very well here and his own subplot (involving a writer-friend who is in a coma) plays out brilliantly, and ends with fascinating ambiguity. Hopkins is well cast, and doesn’t fall for the trap of playing Woody’s alter-ego like so many have done in the past. The character is his and he is certainly well-suited for it, though he doesn’t get to do all that much with it.
The Shakespeare quote that begins and ends the film is taken from one of Macbeth’s more famous soliloquies (Act V, Scene 5), when the King of Scotland has just been informed of his wife’s suicide. Macbeth ponders the meaning of life and what it’s all for. He feels that, in the end, life is simply a tale “told by an idiot…signifying nothing.” Any movie-goer familiar with Allen’s works knows that he shares this sentiment through many of his characters. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is indeed a fine tale — told by no idiot at all. And though it is by no means one of his very best films (a difficult feat to accomplish), it remains a worthy achievement, that should surely be considered one of the stronger works in the great canon of Woody Allen films. I’d recommend any fan of his to see it.