You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Based on a steady, nearly one film per year output, the term “minor Woody Allen movie” classifies a sizable number of titles in the legendary director’s canon. Although Allen currently holds the record for largest number of Academy Award nominations for screenwriting – fourteen if you are keeping track, and none of them adaptations – “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is not likely to add his fifteenth. A fine ensemble engages in Allen’s typical roundelay of marital infidelity, but the result is an average if not unpleasant excursion – more “Melinda and Melinda” than “Husbands and Wives.”

Naomi Watts plays Sally, whose crush on her natty, art gallery owner boss Greg (Antonio Banderas) is exacerbated by the lack of warmth and affection channeled her way at home by ne’er do well husband Roy (Josh Brolin), a cranky and blocked novelist who may have only had one good book in him. Roy’s own wandering eye ogles across-the-way neighbor Dia (Freida Pinto), a vision in red who sometimes undresses without first pulling the shade. While Sally and Roy hurtle toward spousal disloyalty, Sally copes with the news that her father Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has tossed aside mother Helena (Gemma Jones) for a garish, featherbrained slattern, Charmaine (Lucy Punch), young enough to be Alfie’s daughter.

While Allen’s game cast enlivens even the most mediocre dialogue, the scenes between Banderas and Watts are among the movie’s strongest exchanges, perhaps because the outcome of their employer-employee flirtation does not strictly adhere to expectations. The weakest of the threads circles around the later-life crisis of Hopkins’s wannabe playboy, whose clumsy overtures and wheezing exertions are meant to inspire laughter, but wither as tired sight gags. Allen has explored prostitution in a handful of previous films – most notably “Deconstructing Harry” and “Mighty Aphrodite” – with mixed results, but Punch’s uncouth call girl is merely a punch line, leading one to wonder if the outcome would have been any different had the part been played by original choice Nicole Kidman.

Helena’s ongoing relationship with an entrepreneurial psychic allows Allen to simultaneously ridicule the gullible mark and hold forth on the unfathomable beyond. Too many of the ideas in “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” are treated superficially, however, and the movie’s passing curiosity with the occult (which includes an ambiguous séance) fails to adequately examine the consequences of Helena’s dependency on fortune telling. Allen chooses to end the film abruptly, and some viewers may not appreciate the hovering cloud of uncertainties, dictated as they are by Helena’s firm belief in the advice of her crystal-gazing therapist.

Expectedly, the title of the movie functions as both memento mori and hopeful romantic expectation. By now, Allen must have a virtual playbook outlining methods for confounding the vain, naïve, and often luckless dreamers who populate so many of his tales. Even limiting comparison to Allen work made in the last ten years, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” falls far short of the quality of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Match Point,” even as it shuffles through the director’s once enticing but now mostly shopworn thematic terrain.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 10/25/10.

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