There were seven people (eight counting me) in attendance at the 4:35 p.m. Thursday showing of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the latest in Woody Allen’s oeuvre. The film continues the indications we’ve gotten over the last decade or so that we have entered the “disposable-afterthoughts” phase of Allen's career. Hey, you’re as good as your best, not as good as your latest, and anyone who made Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors has earned the right to coast their way into that good night.
But if Allen is down to preaching to the choir, his choir remains devoted. Eight people? On a Thursday afternoon? On the last day a film is showing in a second-run theater in a mid-sized, red-state town?
Yes, he has inspired loyalty.
And as far as disposable afterthoughts go, Stranger has enough to recommend it that it’s easy to remember how Allen has inspired such a following.
Right from the start, the experience was a good one. Right from the start, even before the movie rolled. Among my seven co-viewers was an attractive blond, all alone, reading in the dim pre-movie light. Ah, the optimism one can feel before a movie starts, the hope of a good movie to come can permeate every facet of the experience, convincing you that things might be more, that you might be better, that you could charm that blond. Woody can win over Diane Keaton; you could win her over.
And then the trailers rolled. You’ve got to love the hodgepodge of the second-run trailer reel. There’s always a little bit of everything coming soon, with none of the common denominators behind the market-researched, demographically-driven lineup of previews that precedes a first-run picture. Here, there are films that look potentially good (Love and Other Drugs) to mind-numbingly awful (Due Date) to not-bad-but-way-overrated (Inception) to could-be-a-camp-classic (Burlesque). It’s an island of misfits movies, lacking rhyme, no possible reason, mostly ugly but with an occasional gem.
Yeah, I know, what about the movie?
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is another Allen soap opera, Everyone Says I Love You Redux. Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) is desperately in search of meaning and direction after her husband, Anthony Hopkins (oh, you know), in the grips of a mid-life crisis, divorces her. Her daughter, Naomi Watts (Peter Jackson’s King Kong, I Heart Huckabees) persuades mom to see a psychic medium for guidance. Naomi doesn’t believe any of it, but mom eats it up and, as she tells husband Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Milk) when he protests that Gemma needs psychiatric help, “Sometimes the illusions work better than the medicine.”