“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” Review
There’s no denying that Woody Allen is perhaps one of the most innovative and influential American filmmakers in the last quarter century, maybe of all time. Some of his films have changed the face of the way we view sex, love and the different sides of people, among other topics. However, I think it’s safe to say that this master is starting to lose his touch.
Shortly before seeing the film, someone asked me what it was about. I responded that I didn’t really know, but it’s Woody Allen so it’s probably about relationships. If the shoe fits, apparently. The film is, in fact, about a married couple, played by Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, and Watts’ newly divorced parents, Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones. Both couples attempt to explore their lives inside and outside of their marital vows. Watts is tempted into a not-so professional relationship with her employer (Antonio Banderas), while her husband draws inspiration from the gorgeous muse who lives across the street (“Slumdog Millionaire”‘s Frieda Pinto). Seeking a fresh new start, Hopkins remarries a sultry ex-prostitute and his former spouse attempts to acquire romantic insights from a fraud of a fortuneteller.
Obviously, this is not one of Allen’s finest features. However, even the worst films of this man can stand as an achievement over the much cinematic work being done, these days. The story is a solid one, blending the pros and cons of each relationship, never passing over certain fantastic details which bring life to the characters. In many ways, the story is about the hypocrisies of marriage and the absurd ironies that the characters hold for their significant others. Allen still has a way of letting his stories unfold in an eloquent and timely manner.
The performances are good ones. Naomi Watts definitely shines, as she always does, and Brolin holds his own with his character’s matching frustrations. The standout, perhaps, is Gemma Jones, who’s absent-minded search for romance and redirection is always a joy to watch. Anthony Hopkins, however, really seems to have lost touch with his own greatness. For the last decade, he has, for the most part, floated through his films (“Beowulf,” “All the King’s Men,” “Fracture”). He’s simply there, no more, no less.
One thing that really stands out in the film is it’s fine use of contemporary costume design. The characters are, more or less, color-coated. And not only the harsh reds that always surround Frieda Pinto’s burning essence of sexual passion. Naomi Watts is always cloaked in somber tones of white, black or gray. Jones wears faded colors, such as a pastel blue or beige. And in nearly every scene, Brolin is almost entirely encased in brown or tan. In one shot, we even notice that the inner padding of his muddy-colored jacket is bright red flannel, and it disappears when he zips it up, when Pinto’s erotic overtones disappear from his life.
In spite of the fair amount of praise that I seem to bestowing on this feature, the truth is that it is not that great of film, quite simply because it is not an original work. It seems nowadays that if Woody Allen does not try something outlandishly different from his normal techniques (“Match Point,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), he ends up just combining the plots of his former films into a sloppy concoction of recycled genius. The synopsis should be listed like more of a recipe:
“For tonight’s screening, we will be serving up a mixture of ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ and ‘Husbands and Wives,’ with a dash of ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ for a garnish.”
In sifting through the remnants, the overall film loses not only its originality, but its significance and appeal, as well. The story becomes flat and the characters less interesting. By the end of the film, the conclusions may not seem predictable, but after the fact, they’re less impacting for you’ve seen them before. By no means should Woody Allen give up and stop making films (and even if he should, who’s gonna tell him?). However, he needs to keep thinking outside of the box or he’ll be the one needing a fortune teller to figure out what happened to his career.