You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Woody Misdemeanors

         
 

21 September 2010| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Woody Allen movies from the 1970’s and the mid-80’s, not to mention the mid-90’s too, are classics that will never die. But in the last ten years his work as writer-director is almost arbitrary, averaging one stale movie a year (although there might be a couple of exceptions). Many of his movies feature a sterling performance or two, or contain a fair number of good gags, that elevate expectations a bit. But his movies are simply embarrassing and out of touch. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, a title that feels plucked arbitrarily, presents an intersection of characters falling out or recuperating from bad marriages, and switching to new partners in hope to find a new resolution to life. A majority of these characters have dealt with occupational failure or have too heavily relied on financial dependence on their partner. Resemblance to reality is limited overall.

Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Lucy Punch, Freida Pinto are not exactly a cast of players as much as they are Woody’s game pieces. Of the entire cast, Anthony Hopkins might actually portray the film’s most intriguing character as a Viagra-popping, Ralph Lauren sweater-wearing geezer named Alfie, searching for young sex in order to feel young again, after he has dumped his wife Helena (Gemma Jones) of many years. He’s obsessed with perfect genes, and he finds his counterpart not an Ivy League grad but with a juicy call girl (Punch from “Dinner for Schmucks,” is hysterically crass). Intriguing, but it’s too bad Hopkins is only in the movie for about 15 minutes.

Woody’s main focus is the hardship marriage between Brolin and Watts, as Roy and Sally. Seven years ago Roy had a breakout hit with his first novel but has been cold since, with several consecutive manuscripts rejected from publishers. In the interim, he attempted work as a chauffeur, and in one of Woody’s rare quick cutaway flashbacks, he crashes the limo while on the job. Sally takes full-time work as an assistant to art gallery boss Greg (Banderas), and overtime, develops a crush on him. Helena, mother to Sally, pays a majority of the rent checks.

Adultery and other deceptions ensue and yet the film is strangely devoid of tension. It also, like many recent Woody efforts, fails to be consistently entertaining. You want to know what happens next, but at the same time, you can’t wait for Woody to cut to the next scene already. The blabbering by all actors is incessant, and while Watts does get to perform an authentic neurotic freak-out, only Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) says her lines without making you feel like it’s just Woody-speak.

The onset of everything that happens starts with Roy, a liar and hypocrite, who does his damndest to mask his desperation and low self-esteem. “I’ve been feeling depressed” and “I’m a nervous wreck!” are among Roy’s grumbles. But wait, this is Josh Brolin (“No Country for Old Men,” “W.”) we are talking about here. Why did Mr. Good Ol’ Dude take this part? And what’s with Brolin’s 1977 discotheque hair? His hair runs berserk and his belly flab sticks out like a gorilla clad in corduroys.

In his elapsing storyline, Roy has been having anxiety about his latest manuscript which is under evaluation from a publishing house. During this time, he beckons the attention of Dia (Pinto), a guitar-playing beauty, seen in the window in the building across from his. It’s one of Woody’s eavesdropping themes that we have seen countless times from him since “Another Woman” (1988) and nearly every movie since. Then, as Roy’s professional life succumbs to disillusion (“disillusion” a recurring Woody theme), he decides to steal a publish-ready manuscript from a dead man. When this happens I wondered if Woody has seen “Morvern Collar” (2008) and thought maybe he could get away stealing its plot.

It is not impossible to admire some of the plot-evolving developments, but as hard as the actors work, they are not whole people. They are not whole individuals. Woody has said during interviews that he does not want to see his actors perform (he says he can’t stand that), but he wants to see them natural on-screen. Yet every bodily movement of the actors, every movement of the camera, feels overformal and constricted. In other words, unnatural. That’s the problem. Forgiving Woody fans will not care as much, and might find something to like. But it’s no “Match Point,” nor is it a “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

98 Minutes. Rated R.

COMEDY-DRAMA / ANXIETY PRONE VIEWERS / FALL MOVIE

Film Cousins: “Manhattan” (1979); “Another Woman” (1988); “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989); “Henry Jaglom’s Eating” (1990).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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