DVD, Blu-Ray Movie Review
Directed by Woody Allen, Written by Woody Allen, 102 minutes, Rated R.
By Christopher Smith
Now that's he's a confirmed cinematic expatriate (all but one of his last six films have taken place in Europe, and his next film, "Midnight in Paris," takes place in that city,) Woody Allen follows his last film, the New York stinker "Whatever Works," with a better movie set in London.
Since 2005, two great films have come from Allen while shooting abroad--the terrific "Match Point" and the Academy Award-winning "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" is a slighter work, but it's a modestly good time, if only because so many of its characters are such a hot mess.
Let's just lay it on the line--they are in such a state of disrepair, if you've ever considered therapy, which is the one thread that runs throughout so many of Allen's movies, watching this movie might quell the desire. Almost everyone here is a wreck.
It all begins with boozy Helena (Gemma Jones), who is dumped by her longtime husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins, reminding us after a long period of commercial films that he can act), who is having something of a mid-life crisis. He works out incessantly, he jogs, he bikes, but since poor Helena can't keep up with him, he leaves her. What's the poor thing to do, especially since now that Alfie has shacked up with Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the prostitute he's fallen madly in love with?
The answer rests with Helena's daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), who hooks her up with a faux psychic hauled in to lift Helena up with a handful of lies and deep reservoirs of Scotch. Her job is to convince Helena that her life isn't over. And it works, so much so that Helena starts to see promise in the world, even though her contentious relationship with Sally's husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), hardly makes for a happy family.
About Roy. This is the first film in which Brolin actually looks like the real-life Brolin. Recently, I found myself standing next to him at a Vegas restroom at the Wynn Hotel. His body is oddly thick and truncated, almost dwarfish, which doesn't come through in his other movies, but which Allen emphasizes here in ways that make Roy, who has an unattractive demeanor, also physically unattractive.
Although he went through medical school, Roy eschewed that to write a first novel, which became popular. Almost too popular, because for years he has struggled to finish his second novel. And when he finally does finish it? Let's just say that this artist needs a new focus while publishers read his work.
Distractions are, in fact, everywhere in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." The trouble is, they usually involve the other sex. Roy flirts with Dia (Freida Pinto), a pretty young woman who lives across the way. Meanwhile, Sally slides away from Roy and starts her own flirtation with Greg (Antonio Banderas). And trouble brews.
What's curious about "Stranger" is how it overlooks its greatest star--London itself. There's no real sense of place in this movie--parts of it feel as if it could have been filmed in any big city, which is a waste considering the city at hand. And while the performances are good, the movie fails to live up to the promise of its initial scenes involving loopy Helena. Given her initial quirky presence in the film, which sends it nicely off balance, Allen appears to be setting audiences up for a mad comedy.
But that's not what this is. Instead, we get a movie filled with promise, a few good laughs, your typical Allen neuroses--but no lasting bite.