film review: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

I’m partial to Woody Allen, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. I have some quibbles with his latest film, You Will Meet a Dark Stranger, but I had a good time watching it, and that’s what really matters. As usual, he has assembled an impressive cast and given them interesting roles to play. It’s a treat to watch Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, and a fine supporting cast in this mordantly amusing social roundelay set in London. If the whole isn’t quite as good as the sum of its parts, I’m not inclined to complain.

Leon Redbone’s vocal rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays under the main titles—printed in Allen’s now-traditional typeface—and it doesn’t take a genius to realize—

—that the use of the song is mean to be ironic. We quickly learn that Hopkins has left his wife of forty years, which has sent her (Jones) into a tailspin—and led her to consult a psychic. This doesn’t sit well with her daughter (Watts) or her son-in-law (Brolin) but if it makes her happy, the daughter is content. Their marriage is not in great shape, either, and it’s here that the plot broadens out.

Allen’s famous fatalism looms over the intertwined stories of thwarted ambition, self-delusion, unrequited love (or lust), and bad timing. But the scenes abound with life, especially in the hands of these skilled actors, and it’s a pleasure to see them dig into the material.

I wish Allen had chosen a different narrator, or found a way to eschew narration altogether, and as much as I share his love for vintage music, many of his choices seem random and repetitive. (I suppose it’s an economic factor that causes him to use old records exclusively, where once upon a time he also drew on the talents of musical director Dick Hyman.)

On the other hand, the casting is great. Watts is at her best, and Brolin is just as believable here, playing a schlump, as he is in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps as a lion of the banking industry. Hopkins’ restlessness and discomfort are palpable, and Jones is completely convincing as a woman who has become a hopeless flibbertigibbet. The supporting cast is equally well chosen, including Pauline Collins (does anyone out there remember Shirley Valentine?) as the psychic and Christian McKay (of Me and Orson Welles) in a microscopic role as one of Brolin’s poker buddies.

I can’t place this film on the same level as Match Point or Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but I also can’t dismiss it as a mere exercise; we should all do so well flexing our creative muscles. All I can say is that it made me smile. If you admire the actors as much as I do, and appreciate Woody Allen’s mindset, I think you will feel the same way.

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May 2024