YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Josh
Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts
Director: Woody Allen
Audio: DTS HD
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: Trailer, Preview
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: February 15, 2011
“How ironic and beautiful is life.”
I've been a Woody Allen fan since I was a preteen, but I have to say, as the Woodman gets older, I worry about his state of mind.
It's not that I fear he's becoming unbalanced, but just that he seems so...unhappy. His movies of late have been beautifully written and acted pieces of pessimism in which he seems to view human beings only for having a great capacity to screw up their lives.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger seems to reflect Allen's great love of Ingmar Bergman in that it's like Smiles of a Summer Night without any cheer. It focuses on couples unsatisfied with their marriages for one reason or another, who seek fulfillment in others only to find that relationship happiness is an illusion. The only one who seems to find it is a woman obsessed with a charlatan fortune teller who ends up with another man who believes in past lives and alignments of stars.
She is Helena (Stone), a sweet aging woman whose husband of more than 40 years Alfie (Hopkins) has left. Why? He felt she was getting old while he still clung to a spark of youth. It turns Helena's world upside down and sends her into the arms of a fraud medium for comfort about her future.
Alfie is no spring chicken either, but he hits the gym, hangs out with younger co-workers, buys a car and marries a young “actress” Charmaine (Punch), who is way too young and too hot to be attracted to Alfie for anything other than his bank book. Alfie either doesn't know or doesn't care.
They have a daughter Sally (Watts) having marital problems of her own. Her husband Roy (Brolin) graduated medical school but never sought his license, turning to writing instead. His first book was a success, but his subsequent efforts failed one right after the other, meaning they have to rely on loans from Helena just to stay alive.
It also makes Sally the sole breadwinner, working as an assistant for a handsome gallery owner Greg (Banderas). But romance is also in the air for Roy when he begins to watch a beautiful flamenco guitarist named Dia (Pinto) from his window while he writes.
Dia is engaged and Roy is married, but it doesn't stop him from convincing her to come out for a few harmless lunch dates. But what does Roy, a failing writer, have to offer Dia? The answer actually comes when a friend shares a terrific first novel he's been secretly writing...and it soon opens up an opportunity of immoral proportions.
Meanwhile, Sally pines for Greg, who has a failing marriage of his own, but her real chance at happiness comes with a chance to open her own gallery. All she needs is a loan from Helena, but Helena has become to obsessed with the instructions of her fortune teller to see beyond the whimsy of it all.
And of course, Alfie begins to regret his impulsive decision as his money dwindles away in keeping Charmaine happy while she doesn't seem to regard fidelity as a true marriage vow. She wasn't really an “actress”, but you probably figured that out. “Her only acting experience is faking orgasms,” Sally muses.
In the end, nothing is wrapped up neatly for audiences to take home. Irresolution is the story of the day. Every character seems lost and teetering on the edge of permanent misery, and though Woody is kind enough not to push them over the edge in front of our eyes, he doesn't give us much hope that there are lights at the ends of tunnels for anyone. Only Helena seems happy and content, but based on what exactly?
It's a sobering film from a man who has made us laugh for decades, but in all honesty, has also given us some of our best movie dramas. The whole story feels like a symphony of despair and self-made unhappiness. Yet I have to give it a marginal recommendation for two reasons: the script, despite the downbeats, is terrific, insightful and real, and the cast is amazing from start to finish.
Woody has changed a lot in recent years. Off the top of my head, I can't remember his last New York based picture (this one takes place in London), and I'm starting not to remember the last movie he gave us that had a sense of optimism about life, love, and humanity in general.
If an artist is going to attack human misery for all to see, I'm at least glad it's one as talented and literate as Allen. But with each new movie, I think to myself how much I'd like to shake his hand, and instead of offering accolades as a lifelong fan, simply say to the man, “It's not so bad.”
England is beautiful in high definition, and though this film may lack some of the cinematographic stylings of other Allen movies, there is still a crispness and clarity of the images that is quite lovely. Detail levels are sharp throughout, and coloring all the way is superbly natural looking.
Is there finally a Woody Allen movie not in mono? The box doesn't say, but there is a DTS HD soundtrack that certainly sounds like things are moving around. It's mostly geared toward the spoken words, but as usual, there are nice songs to accompany the goings-on, plus some lovely classical guitar.
Features ˝ *
Once Woody releases a movie, he never views it again, so there's not much chance for extras with his pictures. Here we get a trailer and a preview.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger isn't vintage Woody Allen, but it offers his usual good writing and casting and continues to reflect what can only be considered his more pessimistic outlook on seeking fulfillment in all the wrong ways and the sadness we tend to bring on ourselves because we can't find happiness in what we already have.