Woody Allen fans will again be tearing their hair out this week, as another intriguingly titled, excellently cast film falls short of renewed hopes. For the past few features worth, some critics have sounded the death knell for the prolific New Yorker’s career, but for all of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger‘s faults, it’s not the final nail so many have touted it to be.
Stranger… maps the languid roots of disputatious couple Sally (Naomi Watts) and Roy (Josh Brolin). It is the shrill and decidedly middle aged Sally who weaves the other threads of the story; her Mother’s fascination with a fortune teller, her Father’s decision to shack up with Essex bird Charmaine, and her plagiarizing husband’s attraction to the lady in red across the street (Freida Pinto)
Allen’s film is carried by a charming script, but as witnessed in some of his European endeavors, many of the characters enjoy a silver-spoon lifestyle far removed from the realities of London. Perhaps not as opulent as Match Point, but still particularly out of touch, Allen struggles to bridge the gap between wealth and empathy. It’s hard to feel sorry for Anthony Hopkins’ late-life crisis Alfie, when he has enough money to afford two fur coats for his straying spouse. There isn’t one character we are meant to champion, leaving you to follow the story’s playful twists in a fairly detached manner. The laughs are light and some scenes are lingeringly long, and ultimately as the credits role, you wonder whether there was a point to the whole thing.
The stand out element of this otherwise derivative Allen film is the ending, which stays with you for days after seeing it. The simmering selfishness of the characters, broiling away in the background, comes to a subtle climax. Allen doesn’t push this onto us, but captures the key characters in stark close up shots, as their narcissism comes crashing down around them. There is no sympathy for their plight, simply an emptiness as captured in the opening Shakespeare quote, ‘life is full of sound and fury, and in the end signifies nothing.’ The film wasn’t as vacuous as many have branded it, instead, perhaps Allen was critiquing the nothingness found in these most selfish of occurances.
Common Woody traits are at play here; the supernatural, broken relationships, independent women and flailing men, but sadly with none of the pep or poignancy that turns an okay-Allen film into a great one. The point, if there is one, is typically didactic; it doesn’t matter what you chose to do, life will find a way to bite you in the ass