Upon hearing that a movie is called You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, and that it is another in a long line of moving pictures from Woody Allen, you immediately get the feeling that Mr. Allen will not be portraying the unfamiliar person of the film’s title. Indeed he doesn’t. As a matter of fact, Woody Allen may finally be grasping the fact that his onscreen appearances aren’t too-terribly fashionable with audiences.
That is not to cast stones at Woody, though; I’ve always been a bit of a fan of (most of) his work, and never had any qualms about his own starring roles in his own films until the ‘90s or so…when it dawned on me that most of his stories were all-too-similar to the ones he had delivered to the world back in the ‘70s. For instance: even though I enjoyed his 2006 project Scoop, I felt that the movie would have been better had he cast someone else in his stead.
So then, exactly who does portray the titular visitor in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger? No one, actually: the title refers to a line of cliché mumbo-jumbo that one of the film’s characters — Helena Shebritch (as played by Gemma Jones) — hears from her swami (Pauline Collins). “Why is this broad visiting a swami,” you ask? Well, like most of Woody Allen’s movies, there are several parallel stories intertwining here (which are held slightly in place by the free-flowing narration of Zak Orth), and Helena serves as a sort of “guide,” as it all (basically) starts when Helena’s hubby of forty years, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins — who is definitely not tall or dark, but has definitely had some strange roles), divorces her when he gets what some of us (those who have been there time and time again) like to call “Grass Is Greener Syndrome.”
Alfie and Helena’s split-up kinda-sorta (but not really) sets the wheels in motion for some enormously rough sailing for the already-rocky-seas of the relationship between their daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts) to her physician-cum-struggling-writer husband, Roy (Josh Brolin — who is about two-inches taller than Anthony Hopkins, and so I guess would count as “tall” here). With their personal lives on the verge of disintegrating (or disintegrated already), each individual begins to see that “greener grass” across the way.
In the case of Roy, the “greener grass” is literally across the way: as he becomes transfixed on a lovely young woman (Freida Pinto) in the apartment building across on the other side of the alley. Sally, on the other hand, finds it increasingly difficult to look at her new employer (Antonio Banderas — who could definitely pull off the “dark” part, but who is about the same height as Hopkins) in an entirely “strictly business” sense.
Meanwhile, Alfie’s newfound freedom brings about the inevitable feeling of newfound loneliness divorce sometimes brings — to whit he starts to play “sugar daddy” to a young prostitute (Lucy Punch) — whereas Helena seeks solace in the arms of a recently-widowed occult books dealer (Roger Ashton-Griffiths). Philip Glenister (from the original UK version of Life On Mars), Ewen Bremner, Jonathan Ryland (whom many of you may know as the main Viking in several Capitol One commercials), and Anna Friel all make minor appearances in this dramedy. Like many of Allen’s recent works, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger was produced and filmed in the UK where the aging comedian/musician/filmmaker enjoys better box office business than in the US (where producers are leery of financing his projects, as they do not gross well).
Those expecting the standard lighthearted fare we have often seen from Woody Allen in the past may be disappointed with You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. It’s not a laugh-out-loud screwball comedy, but rather a slightly bleak and darkly-comical look at the wonderful world of faulty relationships and the really stupid things we do to try to get by in life without going bonkers. The actors turn in some fine performances in the long run (fortunately, no one here “mimics” Woody like Scarlett Johansson did in Scoop), but Allen’s writing and directing are exceptionally subdued in this outing. When the end credits start-a-rolling, you don’t experience the “I just watched a movie” feeling as much as you undergo a sensation of “I just sat down in the park and listened to someone else’s conversation for 99 minutes.”
Sure, that’s the way that a lot of Allen’s movies work, but let’s put it this way: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger doesn’t succeed in being as memorable as some of his other “darker” works like Crimes And Misdemeanors. That said, though, it’s still good enough to warrant at least one viewing — especially if you’re an Allen fan.
Sony Pictures Classics brings Woody Allen’s forty-fifth directorial outing to DVD (it’s also available on Blu-ray) in a rather lackluster release, which contains a theatrical trailer (which seems as if it were assembled via a cut-and-paste job) and a plug for the film’s soundtrack (well, a single solitary motionless page) in its special features menu, and nothing else (a few trailers and promos for other, unrelated Sony releases are also tacked-on). The movie is presented in a vivid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with your choice of English or French LCR 3.0 sound (seriously — Woody likes to keep it real, you know) with optional English (SDH) and French subtitles.