Some directors tend to fall in love with certain cinematic devices to the point where it becomes detrimental to their story-telling style. Rob Zombie uses the “shaky cam” so often when action starts that it’s nearly impossible to figure out what’s going on. M. Night Shyamalan has used the “twist out of left field” ending enough that it’s his signature, despite not having used it in some time. And Woody Allen has seemingly fallen in love with using narration to tell his story and move the film forward to the point where it’s torpedoed a handful of his more recent work since Match Point. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger follows this trend of sub-par films from the 21 time Oscar nominated actor / writer / director.
The film follows a pair of married couples in dysfunction. When we meet Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), he’s just left his wife Helena (Gemma Jones) for a younger call girl (Lucy Punch) as he has a mid-life crisis in retirement. They support their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts), who works in an art gallery while her washed up writer of a husband Roy (Josh Brolin) tries to finish a novel he hopes will establish his career as something more than a one-hit wonder. Neither is happy in their marriage, either, as Sally has a secret crush on her boss Greg (Antonio Banderas) while Roy is secretly fascinated with the guitarist across the way (Freda Pinto). Helena, meanwhile, forms a liaison with recent widower Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) based on her newfound interest in “psychic readings.”
One can see where Allen is going with this film. He’s looking to craft his own version of the French film Chloe in the Afternoon (remade by Chris Rock as I Think I Love My Wife) about the nature of romantic relationships and people’s inherent dissatisfactions with them. While Allen’s film takes a more neurotic twist than Rohmer’s film, par for the course, it doesn’t add anything new to what Allen has spent his cinematic career trying to explore. This is nearly the same exact material and characters that he tackled in Whatever Works and Vicky Christina Barcelona, as well as similar to Melinda and Melinda and Match Point, and the problem is that he doesn’t do anything else but explore the same tried threads of the inner workings of failing relationships.
There’s nothing new to be found and it’s amusing that he keeps looking at the same material in the same way and producing the same result. There isn’t much difference between his last three films (Works, Barcelona and this one) in terms of tone, style or characters. He even wheels in the same awful narration that killed Barcelona and does even worse to this film. Narration is a great tool if used properly but Allen uses it glance over plot points or scenes not used in the film, throwing off the film’s rhythm at key points. There’s never a point where the film is moving at a nice, even pace that You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger has the ability to breathe. One of the strengths Allen has had since Annie Hall as a writer/director is the ability to separate what looks good on a page and what looks good on screen. In Stranger, Allen the writer and Allen the director are on opposite pages; Allen the writer is looking to use London as a new setting for the same story whereas Allen the director wants to tell a new story but from a similar angle as before. It’s a clash because Allen’s ability as a writer has declined more noticeably than his directorial abilities to bring out the best in even his lesser work.
It’s most noticeable in terms of his cast. This is mainly a group of veterans, outside of Pinto and Punch, and Allen can’t get a single memorable performance out of them. Considering how many great performances he’s gotten it’s a shame that given another great, experienced cast he doesn’t do much with them. There’s something substantive waiting to come out, something much more than Allen can coax out of his cast. It’s strange to see such a group of talented actors in such a pedestrian level of quality with a director with an established reputation for bringing out great performances.
It’s disappointing to see and the film follows suit. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger but apparently he’s not very interesting.
Director: Woody Allen Notable Cast: Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas Writer(s): Woody Allen
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.