You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on October 16, 2010 @ tonymacklin.net.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is made by a short, gray celebrity.

He's also aging.

Woody Allen was born on December 1, 1935, so he's 74 slouching toward 75.

Many viewers want Woody Allen still to be a funny, wise-cracking nebbish. If he ever was, he's no longer that man.

Woody's persona in many of the 40 movies he has directed was a fairly perceptive character who thought he was different from what he was. His persona often thought he was as sexy as a wild orchid, but he usually was a weed.

One of the most enduring themes in Woody Allen's work is that if you get what you want, it turns out not to be what you thought it would be. Reality is a bitch.

Because Woody's latest movie is realistic, it's also disconcerting. In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the only people who retain their happy visions are the most deluded. It's probably a good metaphor for 2010.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is the story of a "family" in London -- three of whom wind up with illusions gone very bad.

Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) dumps his wife Helena (Gemma Jones), because she is getting old. He unites with a sweetly-crass, young, Cockney bimbo Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Blonde, of course. He thinks she will fulfill his wish to bear a son.

Alfie's wife -- the distraught Helena -- drinks a lot and finds solace in a sham fortune-teller Crystal (Pauline Collins), whom she comes to believe in totally. The dependance on the soothsayer allows her to prevail in La-la London.

Alfie's and Helena's daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) is in a static marriage with an American named Roy (Josh Brolin). He is a novelist whose first novel was applauded, but is now unsuccessful and seeking desperately to get his fourth novel published.

Sally goes to work in an art gallery where she begins to fall for her boss Greg Clemente (Antonio Banderas) and has dreams of opening her own gallery.

Roy sits by the window of his apartment and keeps watching a fetching lady in red (a key color in the film) who has moved into an apartment across from his. He begins a flirtation with the girl Dia (Frieda Pinto) and thinks of her as his "muse."

All of those promising relationships go asunder in one way or another.

Woody Allen is a chameleonic director: we can't see what his movies really are because of our preconceptions, which make us -- as viewers -- as fallible as most of his characters. We see the foliage, not what it conceals.

As in his excellent Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Allen employs a narrator (this time Zak Orth) to give Truffaut-like perspective.

And for the third time, Allen enlists masterly cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who evocatively captures a London ambience.

The cast is first-rate, drawing upon several British actors. Anthony Hopkins is credible as the aging man who gets frazzled trying to recapture youth. Gemma Jones -- who was memorable in BBC's Spooks -- is the wife who is both weak and willful.

Lucy Punch is gratingly good as the callow Charmaine. This could be her break-through performance.

Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, and Antonio Banderas are all credible as frustrated dreamers.

Woody's dialogue -- though I wish he avoided "no pun intended"-- has snap and depth.

Woody Allen is a modern soothsayer.

But in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger -- unlike Crystal -- his sooth is not soothing.

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