‘Tall Dark Stranger’ is not one of Allen’s best

By Kim Giordano

Courtesy of MCT
Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is a rather mediocre story that follows the trials and tribulations of a married couple and the people that come in and out of their lives that only serve to make things miserable. Taking place in London (as many of Allen’s recent works tend to do) the bland and drizzly atmosphere of the U.K. creates the perfect backdrop for the tone of a film in which the characters can only feel sorry for themselves, or continue to pine after something, or someone, that they can’t have.

Though married for over 40 years, we learn within the first 10 minutes of the movie that Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) have recently been divorced. Alfie quickly finds himself in a relationship with 20-something former hooker, Charmaine. Allen’s familiar theme of the older man going for the much younger woman is very much present in “Tall Dark Stranger.” It is also seen in the unhappy marriage of Alfie and Helena’s daughter. The most tolerable character in the film is the restless Sally, played by Naomi Watts. Stuck in a marriage with a failed and quite rude novelist of a husband, Roy (played by Josh Brolin), she starts an innocent flirtation with her married boss, Greg (Antionio Banderas). Roy, just as frustrated with his life, begins a heavy flirtation with younger and gorgeous Freida Pinto, who lives across the street. She catches Roy’s eye as she strips off a vibrant red dress and forgets to shut the shades.

Essentially, Allen’s characters are an ironic representation of the human desire of wanting what you don’t have. At the film’s start, each of these couples wants more and more from each other, but in the end they are left with virtually nothing. After the last 40 years of his career, to say “Tall Dark Stranger” is one of Allen’s best would be an overstatement. The dialogue, although humorous at certain times, was mostly overwhelming and dry. The flat writing of his characters did not allow the audience to actually feel a real connection to any of the people on screen, creating a loss of interest and a lack of sympathy throughout the film. The actors, though an extremely able group, gave surprisingly lackluster performances as an ensemble, with the exception of Anthony Hopkins. As Alfie, he once again proved his acting chops are still superb and his performance was as effortless as his more well-known work as a crazed, cannibalistic serial killer.

Along with Hopkins, Gemma Jones gives life to the scatter-brained and aggressive Helena, who is left entirely alone after her “devoted” husband leaves her. Her daughter (Watts) impatient and tired of her mother’s brandy-delusioned antics sends her to a faux psychic for “therapy” for dealing with her divorce and life. Helena puts too much faith in this fortuneteller, and at the conclusion of the film makes a decision that ends up negatively affecting her daughter.

The real message from Allen, though, is that Helena’s “crazy” beliefs and spiritual journey eventually allowed her to achieve her own kind of happiness, whereas the desires and impulsive decisions that drove everyone else did not turn out in their favor, even though they all thought they were doing the things that would make them happy and bring them success. It can be argued that the only happy ending is for Helena, who, just as the psychic predicted, ends up falling for a “tall dark stranger”. But again, because of an apparent lack of sympathy for a majority of the characters, the unhappy endings left audiences with feelings of rather mundane neutrality.

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is an average film, with an average screenplay, directed and written by an above-average filmmaker. Woody Allen’s latest film will have audience members asking a very important question: does he even care anymore?

Kim Giordano can be reached at [email protected]