You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

While a halfway-decent film, an ultimately forgettable Woody Allen outing.

Released in 2010, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 17 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger image

Sally (Naomi Watts) is approaching the end of her tether. Her increasingly self-obsessed father Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has suddenly taken it on himself to recapture his youth, which means divorcing Helena (Gemma Jones), setting himself up with a bachelor pad more suited to a twenty-something banker-type and marrying a "high class" escort Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Questions could certainly be asked as to whether Charmaine's bra size is greater than her IQ.

Meanwhile, Sally's husband Roy (Josh Brolin) is engaged in a long-running struggle with his 'difficult' second novel, with the novel thus far getting the upper hand. Much of the time when he should be writing is spent staring goo-goo eyed at the neighbour across the courtyard, Dia (Freida Pinto), and the two will soon embark on an affair. Roy has a hate / hate relationship with Helena, no doubt in part because the couple must rely on Helena's help to pay the rent.

Sally's tempted to get on board the affair train herself, destination Greg (Antonio Banderas), her boss at his art gallery. However, as she's more of a loosely bound selection of unwarranted neuroses than a character, she's not going to act on her feelings. Things start rolling to a head after Helena starts visiting a fortune teller, Cristal (Pauline Collins) for advice, whom Sally feels is taking advantage of her mother's vulnerability, threatening the remaining good relationship Sally has with those around her.

At it's heart, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is a film about delusions, and the mess that they make if you follow them to their extremes. For example, Alfie's deluding himself with the notion, if you'll pardon the age-old canard, you are only as old as the woman you feel, and I trust I am not subverting any of your expectations by revealing that things do not go well for him and his young trophy wife.

There's no character here that is not deluding themselves on some level, in whatever way they choose to cope with the grim realities of modern life. Everyone seems to get what they deserve, which doesn't work out well for any of them. For what I'm sure was nominally pitched as a comedy there's a refreshingly miserable ending for everyone, apart from the characters who are deluding themselves all the way into a mental health problem sometime after the credits roll. Whether such an ending is a good idea in a comedy is another matter entirely, of course.

You can't fault the cast. It's as good an ensemble as you could hope for, and everyone is doing what they're asked of well enough. It's just another case where what they're being asked to do isn't up to the level they're capable of performing at. Most of the characters only barely scrape into two dimensions, and never seem like they're comfortable with the words Woody Allen is stuffing into their mouths.

I was going to say that this is above the low water mark set by Cassandra's Dream, but that can't be entirely accurate. Cassandra's Dream didn't set a low water mark, because it was so bad it banished all water around it to the land of wind and ghosts. It's more accurate to say that You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is adequate, although so Woody-Allen-by-numbers that you'll already have a pretty good idea what's going on long before it happens, which rather makes the experience of watching it somewhat pointless.

To my surprise You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger isn't a completely unenjoyable work, largely due to the performances. While I don't find it to be quite as reprehensible as its predominantly negative reviews would suggest, it's by no means the most memorable film I've seen this year. There's enough flaws present to prevent recommending it to anyone but the most die-hard of Woody Allen fans, and even that would require a guarded recommendation.

Woody Allen
Cast list:
Antonio Banderas (Greg Clemente)
Josh Brolin (Roy Channing)
Anthony Hopkins (Alfie Shepridge)
Gemma Jones (Helena Shepridge)
Freida Pinto (Dia)
Lucy Punch (Charmaine Foxx)
Naomi Watts (Sally Channing)