Couples uncouple and recouple and generally make poor life choices in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, a comedy or something by Woody Allen.
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is afraid of death so he works out and leaves his wife of many years, Helena (Gemma Jones). She is terrified of being alone so she pesters her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and spends endless money seeing a psychic (Pauline Collins). Meanwhile, her ex-husband spends endless money on an escort who becomes his fiancée and then his wife, Charmaine (Lucy Punch).
Sally may look down on her father and tolerate her mother’s flightiness but she is herself deeply miserable — stuck in a go-nowhere marriage with Roy (Josh Brolin), a failed novelist, and stuck as the assistant to a handsome art gallery owner, Greg (Antonio Banderas). Sally wants a child and maybe also wants Greg or her own gallery but in any case doesn’t particularly want the unemployed Roy, who is working endlessly on a book that doesn’t seem particularly promising. Roy doesn’t want Sally either — his want is all focused at the window across the street from his window, where he sees the lovely Dia (Frieda Pinto), usually wearing red.
These characters agonize and sometimes pour their agony out at each other, while a narrator reminds us about life being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
“Tell me about your movie, Woody.” Do you remember this trick from when you were a kid? Or maybe you’ve used it with a kid yourself. They paint a picture of something that may be a unicorn or a rosebush or an F-15 and you, instead of guessing and probably getting it wrong, get them to point out the light sabers or lollipops or whatever it is they’ve constructed. It is a mass of color and shape and half-finished ideas that they hand you and the only way you can comment is if they walk you through it.
How I wish I could ask Allen to tell me about his movie.
I think, more than anything else, it’s supposed to be a comedy. But whereas his previous movie, Whatever Works, was a big, broad, goofy comedy (that I loved, by the way), this one is the kind of limp, meandering comedy of say, Anything Else or Melinda and Melinda. As with those movies, You Will Meet has lines that seem like they might be funny, or like maybe something really funny is coming next.
That’s how they get the material for the trailer. But then it all seems to sort of go nowhere. The movie hangs together in large part because of thick “here’s what’s happening in this scene” narration. I spent part of the movie trying to figure out what it compares to — maybe a flashback in a graphic novel? It’s rare that storytelling is this overtly directed, even in books.
For all that, I didn’t hate the movie. The characters might not make sense consistently, but they are sometimes fascinating to watch — particularly when they find themselves done in by their own moral compromises. Particularly Josh Brolin’s sweaty mess, Anthony Hopkins’ deluded fool and Gemma Jones’ desperate nincompoop hold your attention when they’re stumbling through their misadventures. It’s interesting more than entertaining, but interesting is halfway there. Sort of like this movie. C
Rated R for some language. Written and directed by Woody Allen, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is an hour and 38 minutes long and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.