You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: Woody Allen’s Dramedy about (Un)Happiness

As in several of his films, a fortune teller’s predictions figure prominently in Woody Allen’s new film, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” a title that has an obvious literal meaning. But it’s also meant to have darker, or darkly humorous, connotations, which, alas, seldom come to the surface.
It is a known fact that Allen admires the Russian playwright Chekhov, which is visible in the new film, as well as a touch of Balzac.  Boasting one of the largest ensembles he has worked with, “You Will Meet” is a strange, even perverse tale, in which none of the characters is happy or content with what he or she has, except perhaps a fun-loving prostitute.
It is with sadness that I have to report that “You Will Meet” is a minor, second-tier Allen, a picture which appears to have been written and shot quickly, relying on many of the director’s overly familiar tricks and narrative gimmicks.
This is the fourth movie Allen has made in London. My British colleagues continue to claim that Allen does not get right London and its distinctive identities and lifestyles.
An illustrious cast of international stars, including the very American Josh Brolin, Aussie (and Hollywood) Naomi Watts, Spaniard Antonio Banderas, Brit Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones, and Freida Pinto (of “Salaam Bombay” fame) decorates (and wanders) this light, facile, intermittently entertaining comedy of manners, which often struggles to find its right diretion or tone.
“You Will Meet” world-premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Fest (out of competition), getting mixed-to-negative response. Sony Classics will have to overcome this initial word of mouth to put the comedy over when it’s released September 22, after playing at the Toronto Film Fest.
Almost every actor (especially women), I have interviewed over the past three decades has expressed wish to work with Allen, but it’s always both surprising and disappointing to see how little he gives them to do. This is the first time that Allen works with Jones, Hopkins and Watts, all major talents.
At the center of the tale are two married couples, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin). You know it’s only a matter of time before each one of the quartet would look outside his/her union to express their passions and desires, ambitions and anxieties, turning their lives into troubled, messy
What sets the story into motion is Alfie (couldn’t Allen have given Hopkins another, less culturally loaded name), waking up in the middle of the night, realizing he only has a few years to live. An acute case of male menopause, though Hopkins, who is 72, may be too old for that.
After Alfie leaves Helena to pursue his lost youth and free-spirited call girl Charmaine (Lucy Punch), Helena abandons rationality and surrenders her life to the loopy advice of a charlatan fortune teller.
Meanwhile, unhappy in her marriage, Sally develops a crush on her handsome art gallery owner boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas), while hubby Roy, a novelist nervously awaiting the response to his latest manuscript, becomes moonstruck over Dia (Freida Pinto), a mysterious woman, who catches his gaze through a window.
This is, after all, a Woody Allen film, and so it’s right to expect some absurd plotting—and eccentric conduct.  Thus, despite the characters’ attempts to dodge their problems with pipe dreams and impracticable plans, their efforts lead only to greater heartache and irrationality that had defined their previous, more stable lives.
Taking its title from the prediction fortune tellers employ to beguile their marks, this comedy of manners and morals shows how easy it is for adults to make fools of themselves. Problem is, the movie is only sporadically funny and what’s meant to be fresh, wry humor is really a reworking of overly familiar (and tiresome) Allen’s shticks.
Take the ending—with its big moral—which reflects a typical Allen motif. Just as it seems that the characters have absorbed their lessons and are getting closer to resolving their problems, they learn there are no easy ways out. cIn fact, amid all their disappointments, it is their fantasies that kept them going.
Even by Allen’s standards, “You Will Meet” is verbose and overly defined by arguments and comlaints about this and that.  Through the stories of his half a dozen characters, Allen again explores the human need to elude life’s adversities by nurturing illusions and delusions, an issue that runs through many of his pictures, but is best treated in “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”
With one or two exceptions, the acting is uniformly good.   Sally, arguably the film’s most decent character, is played by Naomi Watts with ease and fluency, but there is no chemistry between her and Antonio bandera, as Greg, her debonair married boss.
Cast
Greg ANTONIO BANDERAS
Roy JOSH BROLIN
Alfie ANTHONY HOPKINS
Helena GEMMA JONES
Dia FREIDA PINTO
Charmaine LUCY PUNCH
Sally NAOMI WATTS
Credits
Writer/Director WOODY ALLEN
Producers LETTY ARONSON, STEPHEN TENENBAUM, JAUME ROURES
Co-Producers HELEN ROBIN
NICKY KENTISH BARNES
Executive Producer JAVIER MÉNDEZ
Co-Executive Producer JACK ROLLINS
Associate Producer MERCEDES GAMERO
Director of Photography VILMOS ZSIGMOND ASC
Production Designer JIM CLAY
Editor ALISA LEPSELTER
Costume Designer BEATRIX ARUNA PASZTOR
Casting JULIET TAYLOR
PATRICIA DiCERTO
GAIL STEVENS CDG