(2010)2.5Perry SeibertWoody Allen writes and shoots a film a year seemingly out of habit, which is ironic because his ever-dwindling audience seems to have gotten way out of the habit of caring about his movies. With that in mind, the ensemble drama You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger can best be described as just another Woody Allen movie.
Gemma Jones plays recently divorced Helena, who begins seeing a psychic in order to make sense of life after her husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), decides to end their marriage. Their only child, Sally (Naomi Watts), works as an assistant for a successful art gallery owner (Antonio Banderas), and is married to Roy (Josh Brolin), a onetime medical student who abandoned medicine to write novels -- something he hasn't had any success at since his debut work years before. Eventually Roy develops a crush on a neighbor, Alfie falls for and marries a prostitute he hires, and Sally starts getting the hots for her boss. With all these lies and deceptions, will anybody find happiness?
Naomi Watts manages to sound unlike any other female lead in an Allen film. She plays Sally's crumbling life as a slow burn -- accompanied by a stereotypical British stiff upper lip -- that makes her character rather affecting. She's well-matched by Jones, who could have easily made her character's evolution into a New Age convert silly, but instead gives Helena a steely resolve that forces you to take her seriously when she speaks earnestly about past lives. Their final scene together offers a potent climax for the film's least stale theme -- the difference between belief and pragmatism.
Sadly, much of the film is taken up by Brolin's Roy, a character Allen fans have seen countless times before. He's a dissatisfied, mediocre artist who obsesses over what he doesn't have in his relationship so that he doesn't have to think about how bad his art is. Even if you're coming into this film with little knowledge of Allen's oeuvre (and if, by chance, you've never seen a Woody film, please don't start with this one), the tossed-off writing will not win anyone over. Each scene feels like a first draft, where Allen got down the essence of the scene -- the main conflict -- and then moved right along. There are very few jokes, and almost no nuance, leaving the actors to do the lion's share of making these two-dimensional creations feel like real human beings.
Allen employs a narrator throughout You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and the film's opening speech is that voice-over quoting Shakespeare's Macbeth that life is so much sound and fury, signifying nothing. Well, this particular movie has some sound, no fury, and doesn't signify much of anything, other than yet another example of Allen's ongoing inability to shake himself out of his creative rut.
Two couples find their lives turned upside down by their unfulfilled longings in this ensemble comedy from director Woody Allen. Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) have been married for years. They have a grown-up daughter named Sally (Naomi Watts), who is married to a successful novelist named Roy (Josh Brolin), but finds the future of her marriage in jeopardy after falling for Greg (Antonio Banderas), the dapper owner of a prominent art gallery. Meanwhile, as Roy develops a fixation on Dia (Freida Pinto), an exotic beauty he encounters on the street, Alfie ditches Helena for Charmaine (Lucy Punch), an impressionable young call girl. Now it seems that the harder everyone tries runs away from their problems, the faster their lives seem to fall apart.