Sunday, October 17, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

About two-thirds of the way through the film, the much older Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) starts to run after the far too young Charmaine (Lucy Punch). In this brief moment, I was reminded of the final scene in Manhattan when Woody Allen's character runs to find Mariel Hemingway. The image is so brief in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger that it is almost silly for me to suggest the parallel. But, when dealing with an Allen film the past is always very much a factor.

Many complain that a Woody Allen film is just a slightly changed version of an earlier Allen film. For many directors this is true. For many artists this is true. Many people work in the same style, period, method, etc during their entire career. So, to fault Woody Allen for "repeating" himself is not a point of interest. Many artist will revisit, revise, and recast their final pieces. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is very much a reworking of some of what Allen has presented in earlier films.

The plot is fairly dark. The darkness falls close to, but not as dark as, Cassandra's Dream. The need for sexual exploration and the significance of art were earlier toyed with in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And, at the heart of the film, the poor choices we make and their end results on our day to day life is similar to Crimes & Misdemeanors. In fact, many reviews have argued this film is very much a Crimes & Misdemeanors remake. The bitter, nasty characters and the existential view of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger does come close to the darkness of Crimes & Misdemeanors.

It is possible Woody Allen is no longer writing films for the intellectual audience. Allen is writing for the everyday moviegoer. In doing so, Allen is a lot more upfront with his storytelling. In place of characters furthering along their plots, Allen has made use of a narrator (Zak Orth). The narrator is used (and just as unnecessary) in this film as the narrator in Vicky Cristina Barcelona was. This is probably my only true complaint of the film. The dumbing down of the Woody Allen plot.

The cast could hardly be improved. Gemma Jones, as the mother, is the perfect mix of lost soul, tired mother, and silly busy body. Throughout the whole film, Jones plays on the verge of complete breakdown. The redness of her eyes revealing how fragile she is in every scene. Naomi Watts is lovely and alive as a women trapped in the wrong career and marriage. Watts plays her character smart, wicked, and troubled. Hopkins is spot on in every scene. And, Lucy Punch may be playing a cliched role (think Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite), but she is the humor needed throughout this dark morality play. The one character in need of a new actor- Dia, played by Slumdog Millionaire's Frida Pinto. Each time she is on the screen she is there only to be beautiful. Her reactions, her lines, her story are flat. While Allen may not have given her the most incredible role, she could have made better use of herself. Antonio Banderas certainly did.

When all is said and done, Allen is just giving us a glimpse at our lack of purpose. No matter how far we go to find meaning. No matter how much noise we make to get noticed. No matter how hard we love in order to be loved back. In the end, we're just getting through a life that will end. This is tragedy era Woody Allen. The humor is only found along the edges.


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