You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

3 Oct

By josh

When Woody Allen makes a film, it’s not so much an event as it is a calendar occurrence. Releasing a film a year for just about his whole career, you can’t say he’s anything but consistent. However, for a director who can seamlessly move from high-brow comedy (Manhattan) to drama (Crimes and Misdemeanors) to slapstick (Sleeper), sometimes all in one movie (Annie Hall), you can also make a case that he’s a chameleon. But, you’re always getting Woody, and his nervous, auto-biographical characters. He built a career out of his love for New York, went through a London phase, took a sabbatical in Spain, and now he’s back in England for his latest, a comedy, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.  

The story of a mother whose marriage has ended, a daughter whose marriage is ending, the new men in their lives, and the ones that just won’t go away; it’s a story of people – dysfunctional people – and it’s pure Allen. We open with Gemma Jones, recounting why her husband left her, and we get said husband, Anthony Hopkins, in the midst of a twilight-life crisis, looking great behind the wheel of a sporty convertible, hitting up the tanning bed, and courting a little blonde number. Naomi Watts plays the daughter, who has eyes for Antonio Banderas, but is stuck in a dead-end marriage to failed writer (and failed limo driver), Josh Brolin, who himself is falling for the girl in the building across the street, Freida Pinto. While I wait for you to catch your breath, I will say Allen is always good for getting complicated with relationships, so don’t let the tangled web confuse you. Moving on, Hopkins’ young love isn’t what it seems, Jones competes for affection with a dead woman, and Brolin and Watts probably are just better off without each other. Everybody got that?

It’s always great when we get a new Woody Allen film. That being said, the Allen as of late has been a middling performer. Each movie he puts out is a welcome addition to our junk-filled theaters, clogged up by the likes of Katherine Heigl and Matthew McConaughey (why haven’t those two worked together yet??!!), however, it’s less likely that we get an Annie Hall than a Hollywood Ending. Not to say that we don’t enjoy ourselves; we do. But it seems that Allen is only really knocking out audiences once a decade, with Mighty Aphrodite in the 90’s, and Match Point this millennium. The rest are merely good movies that get solid reviews, but fail to connect like they used to. But when you’re Woody Allen, and you’re constantly being compared to Woody Allen, it’s tough to keep up the pace.

The fun now is watching the actors he casts in his films. Much like last year’s Whatever Works, it was fun to see Larry David in an Allen film. It was interesting to see Scarlett Johansson fall in line with the likes of Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow in the role of “muse.” Here, we get Anthony Hopkins in a comedy; when’s the last time you remember seeing that (stop remembering The Road to Wellville)? Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts are new to Allen’s world; Watts seeming more a fit than the odd choice of Brolin. But that’s the fun of it – seeing new people tell a new story in the same way.

So, will it suck?

No – but it won’t be great. The best Woody Allen movies are the ones where neurotic people are put in ridiculous situations, and no one seems to see the obvious except the viewer, who gets to relish in watching everyone squirm. They’re fun to watch, and despite the fact that we’re getting the same type of joke over and over again, the joke is still funny, and it still seems fresh. Allen’s latest comedy can’t be said to be a wholly novel idea – we’ve already seen Husbands and Wives. And it’s not like Allen hasn’t trampled over complicated familial relationships before – we’ve already met Hannah and Her Sisters.  But it’s Woody, and yeah, so what if all his movies seem to give us the same thing, he’s still the master of the romantic comedy, and every film tells a new story in a familiar, comfortable way. It’s the old writer’s stand-by – it’s not in the story you tell, but how you tell it.

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