Monday, October 4, 2010

Movie Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger ** ½
Directed by:
Woody Allen.
Written By: Woody Allen.
Starring: Naomi Watts (Sally), Josh Brolin (Roy), Freida Pinto (Dia), Anthony Hopkins (Alfie), Gemma Jones (Helena), Lucy Punch (Charmaine), Antonio Banderas (Greg), Anna Friel (Iris), Pauline Collins (Cristal), Ewen Bremner (Henry Strangler).

The films of Woody Allen have become something like comfort food. Every year, the filmmaker makes another film, which is always undeniably a Woody Allen film as he remains one of the most distinctive filmmakers of all time - in terms of dialogue, visual approach and themes, Allen really has been doing something similar for more than 40 years now. He has always been a hit and miss filmmaker, and even if fewer of his films are hitting, and many more are missing, he still has the talent As he has proven in recent films like Match Point, the criminally neglected Cassandra’s Dream and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he can still make a great film. But for the most part, we continue to get films like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - a mildly diverting, but ultimately although pointless film.

Returning to London, setting of Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream after shooting his last two films in Spain Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and New York City for Whatever Works. But no matter where Allen sets his films, they all have a similar feel, and are about similar people - people who are overeducated, who are constantly thinking that what they don’t have is better than what they do have, and they spend too much time overanalyzing their lives, and too little time actually living them.

This time, Allen focuses his gaze on Sally (Naomi Watts) who is married to Roy (Josh Brolin). He is a writer who had a success with his first novel, and has spent years trying to figure out how to follow it up. She works in an art gallery to try and support him as he works on finishing his latest novel - but basically they spend much of their time arguing. They are unhappy, and he has started to spy on his neighbor across the street - Dia (Freida Pinto) - and his peeping tom behavior actually leads to a relationship of sorts. She has started to see her boss (Antonio Baderas) in a different light - like her, he is caught in a marriage that makes him unhappy. Then there are Sally’s parents - Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has just left Helena (Gemma Jones) because he doesn’t want to admit he’s old. He falls for a prostitute Charmaine (Lucy Punch), and makes the mistake of marrying her, and then being surprised to find that she did it because he has money. Meanwhile Helena spends all her time visiting a psychic, whose advice she bases all of her decisions on.

All this is is handled with skill and smarts by Allen. He does know how to write dialogue, and provide us with some interesting characters. Unfortunately this time around, it all rings kind of hollow. It’s not that Allen’s films in the recent past have seem overly original - they are all variations on a theme - but this time, he seems to be going through the motions a little too much. Everything feels just slightly warmed over and derivative. I did quite like Lucy Punch as the call girl that Hopkins marries, who is a little more complicated than we first think. But everyone else is essentially established early, and never really become more complex. Especially Frieda Pinto who is little more than female perfection personified - she doesn’t even get the typical dose of Allen neurosis. Allen, who hasn’t acted in one of his films since Scoop back in 2006, is well known for providing surrogated for himself in the film even when he isn’t in them - this time, I suppose he can be seen in Josh Brolin as the struggling author, and in Hopkins as the older man trying to convince himself he’s still young, but eventually realizing he cannot fool himself any longer. Both do an fine job with their roles - although at times Hopkins simply seems like he’s going through the motions, much like Allen himself. Naomi Watts is one of the harsher female characters in Allen’s recent works - there is very little to like about her, as whenever we see her she is complaining and has a sense of entitlement which is off-putting. I did like Gemma Jones as her mother Helena, but that’s because she does a really good job at being really annoying. I think that Banderas does a very good job at playing aloof - a man who we, just like Watts, seem to deliberately misread because we want him to be something he is not.

Perhaps I am being too hard on Allen and this film. After all, one of the first things he has the narrator say in the film is a paraphrase of Shakespeare’s famous quote about life being nothing but sound and fury signifying nothing. That is a pretty much perfect description of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, so I guess who much you like the film will depend on how much you like all this sound and fury, because there really is nothing else here.

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