Movie Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger- Woody Allen’s Lackluster Attempt to Ponder Human Relationships, Life’s Futility, and Cosmic Insignificance

Throughout Woody Allen’s film career the acclaimed director has gotten incessantly more pessimistic as each film makes its way to the big screen. Allen is a student of the post-modern philosophy that our existence means nothing and is futile to expect making anything significant in an insignificant world. This theme is what holds his newest film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, together with the intention of playing out multiple relationships and their downfalls as the ultimate cosmic joke. What’s unfortunate about Allen’s latest cynical dramatic comedy is that its intended existential message gets lost in the ambiguous endings and messy juggling of the interconnected characters and their related negative situations. There is some great acting, in particular from Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, and Naomi Watts, but the film leaves you with an empty feeling and not really understanding why. It’s almost as though Allen showed you a woman getting ready to kill herself, leads us to the cliff she’s going to jump off of, and then never concludes whether or not she actually did it. It is indeed cynical and quite the laugh-less comedy but just like all of Woody Allen’s films there is something cosmically alluring about his philosophical ponderings. They might not always be accurate, relatable, or ironically funny but they are sort of a reluctant must see for film and theater fans who are familiar with the auteur’s work.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger opens up with some bland and quite unnecessary narration, which attempts to summarize a William Shakespeare passage about how life is told by a foolish narrator with spectacle and flair but is ultimately significant of nothing. This is the underlying notion to Allen’s perspective on relationships in our lives that is equally ventured in his previous film’s Match Point, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Hannah and Her Sisters. Narration is always a fast paced way to explain things without utilizing dialogue or use of the camera to take time to carefully explain it, but Allen has never been the most illustrative technical director. Allen attempts to use narration as a outsider looking in sort of way but never comes off as fluid as one would hope for narration in a film. The plot is also a bit convoluted as it goes back and forth between the varying characters and their complex situations. Helena (Gemma Jones) is the lead character whose husband just left her and is now seeking advice from a paid by the hour fortuneteller. Her husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), is an aging man resisting the natural course of events by working out, changing his diet, and dating a young, perky “actress.” Helena and Alfie’s daughter Cristal (Naomi Watts) is in a challenging marriage to aspiring writer Roy (Josh Brolin), who has an eye out for the exotic woman in the next apartment building, and battles not only with trying to keep her mother happy but also with her feelings for her new employer, Greg (Antonio Banderas). Luckily the characters are interesting enough for us to follow them through the complex web of distrust, varying emotions, and ironic endings. Without the utilizing of good acting and interesting subject mater, Allen’s new film would have become slightly overbearing with its incredibly cynical point of view on the pointlessness of attempting to find happiness in relationships.

The talented cast is what really allows You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger to work as an intriguing film. Allen has a specialty of exposing people and his choice of actors to bring those incredibly unique individuals to life and yet have them be relatable to us shows great insight on the part of Allen as a writer and director. Anthony Hopkins is always fantastic to watch and his portrayal desperate, aging Alfie is at times delusional and incredibly believable especially when his character’s realization becomes clear in a sympathetic and powerful fashion. The complex relationship between Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin provides some great moments of acting between the two of them and lays the groundwork for some of Allen’s most cynical views on married life. There is an incredibly revealing shot when Brolin finally leaves his wife for the woman across the way and when he glances back over to his old apartment and sees Cristal undressing it says a lot about the human desire to want what we don’t have and the lack of human insight that never appreciates what we did have. There is a rare and downplayed performance from Antonio Banderas who fits well within the framework Allen has set up and the intention he has given to Banderas’ character. But it’s Gemma Jones’ riveting performance as the disillusioned and depressed Helena who is the tragic punchline of Woody Allen’s expose of a cosmic joke. As her fortuneteller becomes more prominent in her life, Helena begins to obsessively take her advice in a way that brings her delusional happiness while those around her are prevented from obtaining what they want. Allen presents all this in his simplistic filming style, though provides an incredibly poignant look from cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.

Woody Allen’s career has spanned more than 40 years with an equal number of films to show just how dedicated a filmmaker he has become. Unfortunately the last 20 years there has been a drastic decrease in the quality of his films only due to the repetition of subject matter related to the morose and pessimistic view Allen has on relationships. This doesn’t mean that films such as Match Point or his latest You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger aren’t good films but instead they are just reminders that Allen had done them better in the past with great examples such as Crimes and Misdemeanors and Manhattan. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger attempts to ponder on a cosmic level the futility of human connection mostly due to the overall meaninglessness of life. While this is Allen attempting to channel his idol Ingmar Bergman the reality is that the film itself lacks an overall connection to the audience it is trying to speak to. There are definite enjoyable moments, mostly because the cast ignites the screen with their unique characters, but overall the film is typical of Allen in the last 10 or so years: interesting contemplation without relative significance.

Grade: C+

One Response to “Movie Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger- Woody Allen’s Lackluster Attempt to Ponder Human Relationships, Life’s Futility, and Cosmic Insignificance”
  1. Juan Carlos says:

    Thank you so very, very, very much ! Finally I have someone agreeing with me. Though I think it wouldn’t make much of a difference to my brother, who thinks anything Woody Allen does is pure gold.

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