NOTE: This review was originally published on May 15, 2010 after I screened You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.
Woody Allen threw up a bit of a misfire last year with Whatever Works, a film I seemed to enjoy a little more than most, but would never argue with anyone that disliked it with any kind of real passion. His 2010 entry, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger isn’t an improvement as it lacks any real sense of worth. “Why is this story being told?” would be an appropriate question even though you are mildly intrigued by where it may go.
Set in London, but with no real commitment to nationalities, Dark Stranger is a story of failed relationships. Relationships abandoned due to age, relationships lost to the other man and relationships discarded as couples grow apart. It’s a film made up of characters you don’t really like. Their lives aren’t following any kind of path of virtue and lighthearted moments are few and far between leaving little opportunity for you to ever get to like them.
Naomi Watts plays Sally, the daughter to Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who has left his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), in pursuit of his youth and marries a one-time prostitute 40 years his younger (Lucy Punch). In turn, Helena has placed her fate in the hands of a nutty fortune-teller who guides her every decision.
Meanwhile, Sally and her husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), are still counting on Helena for money to live by. Sally works crazy hours at an art gallery where she’s got a crush on her boss (Antonio Banderas) and Roy is a struggling author with a crush on the girl across the street (Frieda Pinto).
As this convoluted web of relationships-ready-to-implode gets underway I began to lose interest as nothing all that interesting ever seems to happen. The comedy is limited to say the least, and what funny parts there are, are repeated so often they become more annoying than anything else.
Lucy Punch playing the younger, gold-digging bimbo at Alfie’s side has plenty of fun with the role and Punch is quite good, but you can only go to that well so many times before it becomes rote and uninteresting. The same goes for Helena’s weekly visits following her time spent with her charlatan guide, Cristal (Pauline Collins). Helena barges in on Sally and Roy, spouting off Cristal’s visions as facts. Roy’s consistent annoyance is funny, but again, the overuse runs any comedy there was into the ground.
Brolin, Watts and Punch stand out in the film and Frieda Pinto shows some true talent in her first role since Slumdog Millionaire where she was more the mysterious, pretty newcomer. However, I am now looking forward to Julian Schnabel’s Miral with even more interest, hoping what I saw here was the start of something good rather than a sophomore fluke.
I enjoy Woody Allen’s movies, and his classics are some of the best films I’ve ever seen, but You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger just doesn’t quite do it. To this point Allen has directed 41 feature films and either written or co-written all of them, and with that comes expectations and comparisons. Similarities in style and tone are obvious and it’s when Allen finds that little something extra when his films truly click. Recently Vicky Cristina Barcelona did that for me and I am now left to wait and see if Midnight in Paris will be the next.