Thursday, December 9, 2010
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger **
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Pauline Collins, Anna Friel
Anthony Hopkins, Neil Jackson, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto
Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts
Throughout his filmography, Woody Allen has been characterized for delivering existentialist meditations filtered through comedy and relationships, yet even his darkest movies have been characterized by something that resembles hope. Yes, even in something like Interiors, we find ourselves finding that there's always more than meets the tragic eye.
It's a surprise then to find the master feeling so jaded in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. And it's not that feeling of bitterness itself what makes the film fail where other of his works have blossomed, it's just that it feels more like a work in progress than an actual film.
For all the plot twists, winks at some sort of divine justice and quips Allen inserts here, there's also an unintentional sense of disconnect within the characters who this time merely seem to become puppets in a convoluted plot that doesn't know where it's going.
The plot is quintessential Allen, a series of interconnected characters all trying to find their way in the misery of life.
We first meet Helena (Jones) a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband (Hopkins) who ends up marrying former prostitute Charmaine (Punch). Heartbroken, Helena begins to visit a fortuneteller (a delightful Collins) who begins to fix her life.
Helena's daughter Sally (Watts) has developed a crush on her employer (Banderas who curiously isn't the stranger from the title) while her husband (Brolin) tries to get out of his writer block by spying at their sensual neighbor (Pinto).
Allen's dialogues are fascinating as usual, even if sometimes the quips sound forced and cold and while it would be easy to say that any Allen is better than most things playing out there, the truth is that this film in particular shows that as a writer some of his tricks don't work as they used to.
For all the charm contained in the fact that his characters still say things like "erotic" and study musicology sometimes his lines feel derivative. This movie would've been aided by the use of silence and restraint.
If Allen fails a bit, his actors are mostly fantastic (even if this cast doesn't particularly fit together). Brolin broods marvelously and reaches a level of dishevelment that's an act upon itself, while Watts should get an award for being the actress who reached the lower depths of selfdeprecation in films this year. When she confronts a character to ask him if he ever fathomed the idea of falling in love with her, she asks it from a place of such pain that your heart will be broken along with her character's dignity.
It's interesting to see that when it comes to the two central characters in the film Allen pretty much redoes Interiors.
Jones as the resentful wife gives a layered performance filled with the over the top theatrics muffled by her sensitive British comedic timing, it's like watching Blance Dubois being played by Helen Mirren's version of Queen Elizabeth.
Then there's Punch who proves that nobody writes a hooker with a heart of gold like Woody does. Sometimes she comes off looking as an inferior version of Mira Sorvino's character in Mighty Aphrodite but even in cliché Punch finds an odd sense of beauty. Watch her act next to Hopkins, while he tries a bit too hard, she flows effortlessly like a skanky Eliza Dolittle.
It's the cast that make this stranger more alluring than he has any right to be.