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film review: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

by Leonard Maltin
September 22, 2010 4:00 AM
10 Comments
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I’m partial to Woody Allen, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. I have some quibbles with his latest film, You Will Meet a Dark Stranger, but I had a good time watching it, and that’s what really matters. As usual, he has assembled an impressive cast and given them interesting roles to play. It’s a treat to watch Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, and a fine supporting cast in this mordantly amusing social roundelay set in London. If the whole isn’t quite as good as the sum of its parts, I’m not inclined to complain.

Leon Redbone’s vocal rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” plays under the main titles—printed in Allen’s now-traditional typeface—and it doesn’t take a genius to realize—

—that the use of the song is mean to be ironic. We quickly learn that Hopkins has left his wife of forty years, which has sent her (Jones) into a tailspin—and led her to consult a psychic. This doesn’t sit well with her daughter (Watts) or her son-in-law (Brolin) but if it makes her happy, the daughter is content. Their marriage is not in great shape, either, and it’s here that the plot broadens out.

Allen’s famous fatalism looms over the intertwined stories of thwarted ambition, self-delusion, unrequited love (or lust), and bad timing. But the scenes abound with life, especially in the hands of these skilled actors, and it’s a pleasure to see them dig into the material.

I wish Allen had chosen a different narrator, or found a way to eschew narration altogether, and as much as I share his love for vintage music, many of his choices seem random and repetitive. (I suppose it’s an economic factor that causes him to use old records exclusively, where once upon a time he also drew on the talents of musical director Dick Hyman.)

On the other hand, the casting is great. Watts is at her best, and Brolin is just as believable here, playing a schlump, as he is in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps as a lion of the banking industry. Hopkins’ restlessness and discomfort are palpable, and Jones is completely convincing as a woman who has become a hopeless flibbertigibbet. The supporting cast is equally well chosen, including Pauline Collins (does anyone out there remember Shirley Valentine?) as the psychic and Christian McKay (of Me and Orson Welles) in a microscopic role as one of Brolin’s poker buddies.

I can’t place this film on the same level as Match Point or Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but I also can’t dismiss it as a mere exercise; we should all do so well flexing our creative muscles. All I can say is that it made me smile. If you admire the actors as much as I do, and appreciate Woody Allen’s mindset, I think you will feel the same way.

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10 Comments

  • Michael McKay | September 25, 2010 11:39 AMReply

    I never judge any film before I view it, and I merely stated in my last post that the majority of critics who have actually attended screenings of the new Woody Allen film, weren't that high on it. I do think Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are very useful tools in deciding which movies to watch, and which movies to skip, when there are so many options available. It makes much more sense to listen to a wide range of opinion, rather then depend exclusively on the taste of any one particular individual. If that makes me a sheep, then I'm very content to be part of the flock. Apparently, since this is Mr. Maltins site, his word here is cherished as gospel, and differing opinions aren't welcome.

  • Michael | September 25, 2010 1:35 AMReply

    Bravo, Mr. Jim Reinecke. My sentiments exactly.

  • danny | September 24, 2010 7:51 AMReply

    i saw the movie last night... i don't know what you sheep are talking about... yes sheep... you guys who look at a website percentage and base your opinion on that without seeing it makes you sheep. the movie is quite good. maltin's review here is pretty on target. i actually preferred this to vcb... it's not really funny but odd and quirky and sad at times... but very interesting characters, great performances... 6 i know went to see it and we all liked it.

    and for the sheep... it has a 57 on metacritic which is a much better website than rt

  • Jim Reinecke | September 24, 2010 2:36 AMReply

    "Another case of Leonard going against the grain of popular sentiment" you say? So once again I say "Bravo!" to Leonard, Michael. If there is a website with the handle of "sheepasfilmcritics.com" perhaps this would fit more tidily into your comfort zone.

  • Richard | September 22, 2010 12:28 PMReply

    I love Shirley Valentine! I would take a chance on the Woody Allen film just to see Pauline Collins again.

  • Laurie Mann | September 22, 2010 12:28 PMReply

    I wish Woody Allen would write a different plot...I think he's written this one four or five times over the last 35 years. Still, the cast is terrific so I might go see it anyway. Always good to see Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones and Pauline Collins.

  • Mari | September 22, 2010 9:05 AMReply

    I love Allen ;)

  • Michael Mckay | September 22, 2010 7:27 AMReply

    This latest Woody Allen diversion is currently sitting at a subpar 45% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet another case of Leonard going against the grain of popular sentiment.

  • Fielding | September 22, 2010 4:30 AMReply

    You'd think more reviews would be like this - hey, the situations might be familiar, but it's a delight just to see these great actors in a Woody Allen movie. But instead, too many critics seem compelled to air some bizarre private grievance against Mr Allen. A pity.

  • Jim Reinecke | September 22, 2010 3:16 AMReply

    Cherish this extraordinary American filmmaker, folks. He is now in his mid-70's and only time will tell how many more gifts Woody will have for us. In the intellectual cesspool that American movie-making has become, here we have a director who doesn't shove crotch and flatulence jokes down our throats, writes literate, witty dialogue and doesn't seem to feel the necessity of foisting off sequels on the movie-going public (no "Annie Hall II", no "Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Next Generation" and no "Bullets Over Broadway II: The Revenge of Cheech".) Woody is a true original and his works, even the lesser ones, are more deserving of an audience than 90% of the mindless bilge that mainstream Hollywood assaults us with these days. May his fountain of inspiration never run dry. . .and may his films be viewed and discussed with the proper reverence by future generations in much the same fashion that Ford, Sturges and Capra (to name three) are.

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