Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones
About midway through Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, I realized what the problem was: every element of this film is just a watered down version of something from one of Allen’s better films. So, by all means, save yourself the trouble and just watch one of his better films instead of this one, which ends up being little more than a demonstration of how to completely waste a cast of incredibly talented actors.
I suppose you could say that this story is about chance and the ways that life works in mysterious ways. On the other hand, you might also say that it’s about the inept attempts humans make to manipulate life. The story concerns Sally (Naomi Watts), who has a hopeless crush on her boss (Antonio Banderas) despite being married to Roy (Josh Brolin), a failing novelist who has become enchanted by Dia (Freida Pinto), who lives across the street. Sally’s parents Helena (Gemma Jones) and Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) have divorced and her mother spends her time seeking the advice of a psychic (who advises her that she will meet the tall, dark stranger of the title), while her father attempts to recapture his youth through a horribly misguided marriage to the much younger Charmaine (Lucy Punch), whom he met when he hired her from an escort service.
So what trials and travails await these characters? Well, Charmaine quickly drains Alfie dry and possibly becomes pregnant with another man’s child. Sally discovers that not only is her boss pretty much a text book cad, but that he wasn’t really as into her as she was to him anyway. Helena meets a man (though one who is short and bald) but is distressed to learn that he wishes to receive the blessing of his late wife before starting a new relationship. The most intriguing development involves Roy, who gets everything he wants – Dia and a book that is bound not only to be a best seller but a critical favourite as well – only to find that he’s built his dreams with smoke and mirrors and they dissolve before his eyes.
The Roy plot, properly explored, would have made for an intriguing story. Roy wrote one good novel and has experienced nothing but frustration and disappointment ever since. He has a friend who gives him a manuscript to read and he recognizes it as a masterpiece. No one else has read the manuscript or even knows of its existence and then the friend dies in a car accident. In a fit of selfishness and desperation, Roy decides to give the manuscript to his publisher, passing it off as his own. Everyone loves it and Roy is set to become the toast of the literary world – until he discovers that the friend he thought had died is actually just in a coma, one from which it is entirely likely that he will recover. It’s an interesting and compelling set-up that offers the opportunity for a nice character study in terms of Roy – he’s always lamenting that he wants to make it as a writer but are you really a “writer” if you’re content to just put your name on someone else’s work? – but there’s no real follow-through. It’s the germ of an idea, not the exploration of one, which is pretty much how I’d sum up You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger as a whole.
Allen is a tireless creator, having released at least one film every year since 1982. Though many of his most revered films have come out since then (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Husbands and Wives, just to name a few), he may be getting to the point where he would be better served to spend more time developing his projects. This is the second really disappointing film from Allen in a row (the first being Whatever Works) and I have some doubts that the upcoming Midnight in Paris is going to be an improvement. But I guess we’ll always have Annie Hall.