You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Feb/110

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Andrew INDIFFERENTYou Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger finds Woody Allen back in a familiar groove which doesn't spell out a failure but can hardly be classified as a success.  There are the standard tropes of an omniscient voice-over narrator, the interplay of young and old, jazz music aplenty, the ludicrous nature of faith, and everything else he's built his career on.  It's assembled in a clean, hassle free, and utterly boring package.

Stranger follows the lives of a number of wealthy, upper class New Yorkers  and their romantic issues (because Allen knows precious little outside of this bubble).  There are two couple with parallel marriage issues who try and find happiness elsewhere.

On the "old" front there is Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) who have split up after years of marriage because Alfie had an existential panic attack in the middle of the night.  In retaliation against the looming threat of eternity he pledges himself to get back into shape and marries a prostitute named Charmaine (Lucy Punch).  His ex-wife Helena tries to find some kind of comfort in her fortune teller friend Cristal (Pauline Collins) and her new spiritual advisor and sometime lover Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths).

In the "young" plot thread we follow Alfie's daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin).  Roy has been upset that no one will publish his book and Sally is getting fed up with Roy's incessant negativity and the two find their eyes beginning to wander elsewhere.  Roy's roving eye looks across the street on a daily basis where he sees the exotic Dia (Freida Pinto) undressing daily.  Sally also finds herself tempted by Greg (Antonio Banderas), a similarly exotic presence with a taste for the opera.

A few shades of Mighty Aphrodite in the prostitute plot line but there's nothing as interesting as the Greek chorus here.

Allen does a pretty good job dangling each couple together but coaxes average to ok performances from all of the participants.  The only truly notable performance belonged to Josh Brolin.  He's playing slightly against type and inherited only some of the nervous mannerisms that tend to inflict most of Allen's writer characters, but does a good job integrating them with a new sense of anger and frustration.  Less successful, and where the problems with the movie lie, are with Gemma Jones' performance as Helena and the events around her spiritual transformation.

I have never liked the way Allen has handled spirituality.  He seems to think that anyone that even gives partial credence to the religious thought is a wacko or simpleton.  So while everyone else is engaged in a fairly level headed discussion of relationships and the importance of fidelity Helena will wander into a scene and distract everyone with an overly simplistic portrayal of spiritual awakening.  It's terribly distracting but it's not nearly as hateful as the lengths Allen has gone to in the past to paint religion in a bad light.

Josh Brolin comes out the best in the "Woody Allen" role as he's not really too similar to the notoriously nervous director.

This is sad because I like what Allen is trying to go for by juxtaposing Helena's faith as her new "relationship" with the other physical pairings that everyone is pushing for.  Allen understands that when we idealize someone else because of our current unhappiness it's only a matter of time before some of that unhappiness gets transferred into the new relationship.  He shows that since faith, at least for some, provides a goal that can never really be attained those people will be happiest since there is something to always pursue.  So sad for the rest who just want their carnal desires placated, because the reality of what they're living with will come crashing in soon.

Stranger was an hour and a half that came and went breezily leaving nary a mark in my head.  There are a few good ideas percolating in the mixture but nothing that really brings out the full potential of any of the characters or plot threads.  Fans of Allen's work will find little new or of interest and anyone popping into one of his films for the first time will have difficulty finding anything memorable to take home with them.  Not a bad way to spend an evening, but there are better ways to spend your time.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Written and directed by Woody Allen.
Featuring an ensemble cast led by Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin.

Posted by Andrew

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