You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen, 2011)


Naomi Watts (Sally Channing), Anthony Hopkins (Alfie Shebritch), Antonio Banderas (Greg), Josh Brolin (Roy Channing), Freida Pinto (Dia), Gemma Jones (Helena Shebritch), Pauline Collins (Cristal). Screenplay by Woody Allen. Directed by Woody Allen. Rating: 12A. Running time: 96 minutes.

Woody Allen may be a nihilist, but it seems that he has judged himself to have at least one obligation in an otherwise meaningless universe: he must, apparently, beat us over the head annually with a new film reemphasising his philosophy of life. Nobody would deny that he has adopted magnificent ways of doing so in the past, but anyone who sincerely judges the likes of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger to be as worthy of praise as Husbands and Wives must, in some sense, be kidding themselves. The cast may be as impressive as ever, but this London-based drama adds so little to the Allen portfolio that it’s quite embarrassing. I feel sorry that, in his old age, this past genius has swapped compelling, neurotic cinema for what can only fairly be described as boring twaddle.

The problem is the pointlessness of the whole exercise. The themes Woody explores here feel decades old now, and over time they seem to have slowly had all of the life drained out of them. From failed writers to marriage breakdowns, nothing is new except the actors and locations, and no aspect of the film is even remotely of interest. There’s no humour in the unfolding of a melodramatic, personal existential crisis as was so well crafted in Hannah and Her Sisters, and there are certainly no insights into relationship trouble as was common in Woody’s earlier work. Instead, we are just given the brute portrayal of these things transpiring all over again, without any justification for the revisiting of these themes in such a bland way.

Just consider Anthony Hopkins’ strand of the film: he plays a man who divorces his wife in old age, experiencing a late-life crisis and remarrying a gormless young cockney hooker who’s evidently just after his money. Seriously, Woody? This is pathetically cliché, and just plain stupid. What on earth is the source of satisfaction or appreciation supposed to be here? The same goes for Josh Brolin’s character, Roy, who falls for Dia (Freida Pinto) by observing her guitar-playing Rear Window-style across a quad and taking her out for lunch a few times, whilst his wife (Naomi Watts) is similarly flirtatious with her boss (Antonio Banderas) who takes her to the opera. The actors on board here deserve better than this. They are all worthy of playing the kind of rich characters that Woody created with ease in the 80s, but seems to have no interest in working on today.

This film reminds me of what it is like to see Bob Dylan play live nowadays: the man is, and always will be, a legend, but for what he did in the past and not for what he does today. He no longer performs with passion. It’s almost as if he sings and strums for the mere sake of having something to do. When Woody comes out with junk like this, it is, tragically, tempting to think of his modern filmmaking in a similar way.

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