Perhaps oddly, there is for me a certain comfort in sitting down to watch a Woody Allen film. While the stories he tells are different, while the characters (more so when he’s not present) differ, and while the genre (or at least sub-genre) shifts, Woody Allen films are all built around true characters, great dialogue, and usually a certain cadence that makes them instantly identifiable as being written and directed by the man himself. Even if the film isn’t his finest work, there are insights into people and the world which Allen imparts in all of his films which prove wise, humorous, and familiar all at the same time.
Woody’s Allen’s latest movie, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is again, as with much of his recent work, a film which takes place in London. And, as with virtually all of his work, the story centers around love, longing, and lust in a group of people. Less funny than many of Allen’s features, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger still manages to impart a chuckle or two over the course of it’s 99 minute look into the lives of a single family.
The family in question here is that of the Shepridges. The father, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has left his wife of 40 years, Helena (Gemma Jones), in pursuit of a younger lifestyle, whatever that might mean. At the same time, their daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts) is dealing with a crisis in her marriage to Roy (Josh Brolin) as Roy’s writing ambitions haven’t worked out and she begins to feel an attraction for her boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas). That is all to say that it’s a relatively typical sort of Allen plot which somehow manages to take what sounds like the storyline for a daytime drama and turn it into so much more.
Again, as you would expect from Allen, each character meets a potential love interest and for all of them things either work out for the better—at least as long as the film runs—or the worse. In Allen’s films there is never really a sense that the story has finished when the credits roll, simply that our window into the characters’ world has closed. Life has existed for them before the film starts and life continues to exist once the film ends, but our part as the viewer has finished.
I certainly don’t wish to get into which love stories may continue once the last frame has been shown and which ones conclude despite our narrator paraphrasing Shakespeare, telling us that life is full of sound and fury but signifies nothing. It may be nothing, but ruining that nothing seems wrong. In fact, I think that Allen would probably argue for living that nothing as well as you can – his films seem to say that not everything will work out and that you’re going to make a load of bad decisions (perhaps more bad ones than good ones), but that you can’t win if you don’t play.
Certainly in this film, the characters are playing. Alfie meets a much younger woman in Charmaine (Lucy Punch) whose professed love of the man seems a rather dubious claim. And, as much as Alfie may obviously be making a fool of himself with his desire to act younger, Roy’s potentially foolish notions of love—he falls for an engaged woman played by Frieda Pinto—life, and career may actually, at least partially, lead him to good results.
The ensemble cast here all feel as though they’re at the top of their game, even if there are moments when you wish that they were given more to do. The older man falling for the younger woman—the woman who may or may not be with him for his money—is rather clichéd and yet Hopkins is given little besides that cliché with which to work. Gemma Jones gets more to do as the spurned wife who is not only working through her own issues but also finds someone, but Alfie does feel as though he’s written a little on the thin side. As Alfie seems to be the character Allen would play himself were he in the movie, one can’t help but get the sense that should he have been in front of the camera, Allen may have been able to bring more of the viewer’s relationship and history with Allen’s characters to the role, thereby filling it out somewhat. However, that is not the case and we are left with one character in the film who should have been more.
The Blu-ray release is exceedingly sparse on special features. There is a trailer for this film and an extended one for Barney’s Version, but that’s all.
As for the technical aspects, the visuals are outstanding and the LCR (left, center, right) DTS-HD MA soundtrack is more than adequate. The colors are rich and vibrant, the detail sharp, and the black levels quite good. There are a couple of close-ups on people’s eyes which appear astoundingly blue or green (or whatever color said actor’s eyes may be) and which truly help you see into the characters and their joy or sorrow. The soundtrack mainly exists in the center channel, and while there is certainly a lack of city noise to set the tone in outdoor scenes because of that, you’re watching the movie to hear what the people are saying (and to listen to the music), not to hear and see things explode (which Allen is never big on). You won’t have any trouble hearing the dialogue and gleaning its meaning with the track.
I don’t think anyone out there would classify You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger as one of Allen’s best films, but it is another view into his world and characters, and well worth watching.