You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger has a lot riding on it. The first film of hyper-prolific actor/director/writer Woody Allen’s sixth decade in the business, many of his committed fans are hoping it will represent a return to form for Allen after several long years of generally mediocre output – after all, it deals with relationships as tangled as those in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and stars Oscar nominee Naomi Watts. These are good things. Apart from Allen itself, it has nothing in common with The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (a simple is-this-shit test which all film-makers should apply to their output) – unfortunately, it seems that keeping arthropods out of the mix just wasn’t enough to elevate this film above adequacy.

Sally (Watts) is in a bind. Her elderly parents have divorced and she’s plagued by visits from her daffy spiritualist mother Helena (Jones) whilst her keep-fit fanatic father Alfie (Hopkins) lives it up in his bachelor pad. Her one-hit-wonder novelist husband Roy (Brolin) can’t keep a job because they distract him from his writing, so she’s relying on handouts from Helena to help pay the rent. She’s just found a new job at a swanky gallery, but she’s got a horrible feeling she might be starting to fall for her cultured and courteous boss Greg (Antonio Banderas) – attentive, friendly and interesting, he feels like everything introverted Roy isn’t. And while we’re on the subject, why does Roy spend so much time staring out of the window? Something very odd’s going on there…

What’s going on is that Roy’s eye has been caught by the girl next door, a musician who dresses all in red (Freida Pinto). It’s not his fault that he can’t get anything published – it’d be so much easier if his bloody mother-in-law wasn’t always turning up with dire predictions from her charlatan fortune-teller, but Sally keeps encouraging her. It’s alright for Alfie, for God’s sake; he might be getting on a bit, but he’s found a new squeeze easily enough. If only Roy could slip away from his responsibilities so easily…

Did you follow all that? You Will Meet… has enough plotlines for at least three films, but its hapless, half-baked characters never get more than a few steps down any one narrative path. Roy’s problematic novel, Naomi’s conflict at work, Helena’s dabbling with the occult, Alfie’s quest to regain his youth, Naomi’s career ambitions, Roy’s wandering gaze, Helena’s fear of loneliness, Naomi’s longing for a family, Roy’s shadowy plans, Alfie’s dalliance with a woman who may or may not be a prostitute, the fact that everyone in the lead cast drinks far too heavily… there’s so much going on that it’s difficult to fully commit to a character’s plight for even a few minutes, because you know perfectly well that someone else is about to bound onstage with further screwball woes.

It’s not that it isn’t entertaining – the dialogue is sharp and tasty as some sort of delicious fruit-flavoured sword, and the cast battle manfully with the challenge of imbuing each scene with some much-needed coherence. Hopkins, Brolin and Banderas are all as reliable as ever, although Gemma Jones is by now utterly incapable of playing any character which isn’t, flutter for flutter and warble for warble, a carbon copy of Bridget Jones’ mum. Surprisingly, the real disappointment is a wooden and unconvincing Naomi Watts – one can hardly criticise Roy for seeking comfort elsewhere when his wife looks and sounds for all the world as if she’s reading an autocue with a gun to her head. Almost everything about You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is adequate, and absolutely nothing is memorable – the film’s theme is the illusions we all choose to create for ourselves, but the self-deception viewers will remember belongs to an elderly man who can’t quite accept that his golden age is long gone.

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