You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger Directed by: Woody Allen Cast: Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Freida Pinto, Gemma Jones Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: October 1, 2010 (limited)
PLOT: After an older woman (Jones) is divorced by her long-wedded husband (Hopkins), she begins seeing a fortune teller. At the same time, her daughter's (Watts) marriage falls apart when her husband (Brolin) starts eying a beautiful girl (Pinto) across the apartment courtyard.
WHO'S IT FOR? Filmgoers who think that Woody Allen movies are more or less the same shouldn't even consider this one. Even the most staunch Woody apologists will have their support put to the test by You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.
EXPECTATIONS: From its debut at Cannes, I had heard little about the film, and avoided any bits of plot-spoilers or footage. Aware of the casting, I was curious as to whether Allen would put the talents of Brolin, Hopkins, and Watts to good use, or if this would be another heavy-loaded casualty like his past failed projects.
Josh Brolin as Roy: Sometimes, it’s just the casting. Brolin simply does not fit here, especially in the role of an anguished author. Roy complains here often, and isn't afraid to put his feelings out in the open. While bulky men certainly can also be sensitive, Brolin does not provide a suitable performance that gives this idea substantial evidence. Score: 3
Naomi Watts as Sally: A woman bouncing between stilted affection of two different men, Sally is tooled around for most of the film, and hardly becomes an endearing character in the process. Watts' is buoyant, but not in a great way. She's just floating, and trying to keep her head above water. Score: 3
Anthony Hopkins as Alfie: Even Sir Anthony Hopkins can not breathe much life into this character, possibly because this man is near identical to Woody's past men whose 3/4 crisis only got worse when they got heavily involved with a younger woman. Hopkins' pinch of sincerity that he adds to this misguided older gentleman is not enough to give the actor (or even the character) much direction. Score: 3
Freida Pinto as Dia: In her first role after Slumdog Millionaire, Pinto is successful in being objectified by the story and being complacent to its one dimensional nature. Though pivotal to a break-up of an important relationship within the film, Pinto's character is pretty useless. I mean that literally. Score: 2
Gemma Jones as Helena: Somewhere in this annoying weepy performance, Allen is aiming for a dark laugh. Helena is a tragic character with a strange mindset, especially after her divorce. Early into the film, her obtrusive presence, one of especially uninteresting remorse, becomes unbearably obnoxious in the film. Roy agrees with us when he almost throws a glass at her head. Her mid-film revelation about reincarnation is neither compelling, or condescendingly funny. It's just strange. Score: 3
TALKING: Well, this is a Woody Allen movie, y'know, so there's a lot of stuttering and "y'know" thrown in there, which is fine if you think people really talk like that. Zak Orth provides the audience with occasional narration, and of course, a closing thought at the end about how worrying about death doesn't seem to be as efficient as just living to the fullest. Score: 5
SIGHTS: Allen is a filmmaking machine, but even the most reliable contraptions can have their hiccups. Here, his visual hiccups might be forgivable if they weren't so obvious. The editing can be very sloppy at times, (Lucy Punch’s knee moves all over the place in one scene in a gym) and the location cinematography is quite drab. Instead of presenting England with the curious eye of an outsider, Allen continues to pretend that he's a local, and robs his viewers of much eye-worthy scenery. Score: 3
SOUNDS: Dixieland jazz continues to warm a script's heart, as it accompanies moments both good and bad for Allen's characters. “When You Wish Upon A Star” makes a pleasant little appearance in the opening credits, and sticks out as the most unique soundtrack selection for the entire film. Even Freida Pinto’s character playing Boccherini on classical guitar doesn’t make for a resonant moment. Score: 3
BEST SCENE: This is tough to choose. It’s very possible that the idea of seeing Woody Allen’s specific credit font at the very beginning, before this movie is tainted by its own awfulness, is its most comforting factor. It reminds you that this is just one bad movie out an entire filmography from the same writer/director.
ENDING: Instead of fully resolving their problems, the film decides to abandon its characters, and let them figure out their own quandaries. While we, the audience, step out of the theater and forget about the entire experience.
QUESTIONS: Why, Woody, why?
REWATCHABILITY: No thanks. I'd probably rather die than Meet A Tall Dark Stranger again.
Death has two new friends in the residence of Woody Allen’s cranium – afterlife spirituality, and reincarnation. Unlike the casting of Josh Brolin in a Woody Allen movie, this is quite fitting for the miserable You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. After all, Allen’s latest story feels like it was ghost written by the spirits of his significantly lesser work.
The simple joy of partaking in even a light, slightly disposable Woody Allen comedy is sucked out by the film’s sense of humor, which is lifeless instead of just morose. Talented actors play dull characters that wander around one of his most bland plot concoctions yet, and the loaded cast doesn’t do anything to save a script that is poor at writing itself. A couple of small surprises are thrown in at the end, but Allen’s significant undermining of the supposedly serious themes within his story (temptation, spirituality) is irreversible. After the characters have meandered around for long enough in the story, Allen just abandons them and their conflicts. Probably to go gawk at a real-life tart across the courtyard. Or, perhaps he simply got bored with the story himself.
In the past, with casts that sparkled even less, Allen has been able to preserve recurring story elements so that they're reasonably fresh. I usually defend against the accusations that Allen is just “going through the motions" on certain projects. Unfortunately, this particular film warrants such cynicism. As Death will tell you, it’s difficult to have much motion at all when going through rigor mortis.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10