Woody Allen has a standard kind of film that he’ll go to from time to time. It comes from the mold of Manhattan (1979). It’s an ensemble of couples who have affairs or want to have affairs or suffer from career problems. Generally, there’s a writer involved somewhere. For those who dislike formula or “cliché,” this will probably preclude you from a bulk of Allen’s catalog. Well, I’m not one of those people.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), written and directed by Allen, follows four characters’ journeys through love and career. Sally (Naomi Watts) is married to Roy (Josh Brolin) who started writing after he graduated from medical school. Sally’s mother Helena (Gemma Jones) has just got divorced from Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) who is going through a late life crisis. Now, Helena is seeking the help of a fortune-teller to tell her everything is going to be alright. The general story is how each starts relationships with other people that are very problematic for social or psychological reasons.
This movie isn’t one of Allen’s best, but it is far better than a 6.3 that the collective voters of IMDB have given. The movie is charming despite some rather despicable characters that I want to succeed despite themselves. Then, towards the end, I want them to fail. Allen obliges. Is that a spoiler? Since Allen usually ties everything up in a bow, then I suppose it is.
That is probably the major failing in the movie–the failure to tie things up in a bow. All but one of the story lines is set adrift. What happens to them? We don’t know. I can’t even be satisfied that they’re going to be alright–probably because I think they won’t be. I shouldn’t really blame a movie that doesn’t have a happy or positive ending. That would show a serious flaw in my sensibilities. So, I won’t blame it, but you should take it’s lack of popularity as a sign of a misplaced response.
I would place this movie somewhere between Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and Midnight in Paris (2011). It has the feel of the modern parts of Midnight in Paris (and musical sense), but the dark romance of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Then, there’s a taste of Match Point (2005) in its moral vagueness and London setting. These are all good things, but mix strangely. There’s a lot of unsatisfying affections going around that are a little disappointing–again, confusing the reaction to the story with the reaction to the movie.
I have decided that Josh Brolin is a real actor worth the time. It doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and see Jonah Hex (2010), I haven’t gone insane, but it means that I can take him seriously as a benefit to a movie. In this movie, he plays a writer who isn’t having a very marvelous time of it. He’s had one promising hit and hasn’t done very well since. Brolin plays a role where he’s unlikely to knock out anyone’s teeth and he plays it well. That’s why we should take him seriously.
Watts does well, but I think we’ve always known that she was good–I recommend The Painted Veil (2006) to you as a showcase. She suffers from otherwise less-than-fantastic decisions. The Ring (2002), really? Hopkins was actually rather disappointing in this. He basically phones in his performance with the distracted throwing-away of lines that he’s been perfecting for the past decade. And Gemma Jones plays the same thing she’s played in virtually everything I’ve seen her in, except a little crazier, which is nice.
I hadn’t even heard of the movie until I looked for Woody Allen movies at the library and was startled to find it was made only two years ago. Well, now you’ve heard about it. I suggest you tell your friends.