By Brian Lafferty
October 3, 2010 (San Diego)--You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger features a lot of great actors. Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Freida Pinto and Antonio Banderas make up most of the ensemble cast. It is also written and directed by Woody Allen. But despite all the talent here, the movie did nothing for me because they are all involved in a nonessential movie.
The movie cuts between several stories. Brolin plays an American author who gave up a career in medicine to write. His first book was a bestseller but he has fallen on hard times. He also falls for the woman across the street, played by Pinto. Watts plays his frustrated English wife, who struggles to hold their marriage together. She takes a job at an art gallery, where she is pursued by her boss, Banderas. Hopkins plays an elderly gentleman who divorces his wife, turns playboy, and marries a hooker (Lucy Punch, from Dinner for Schmucks). His unhappy ex-wife (Gemma Jones) sees a phony psychic and begins a relationship with a man who believes in the Occult.
There were times when I wondered if Woody Allen even tried with this picture. He has always been a wonderful screenwriter but the lines are unmemorable and generic. “I tried Hollywood,” Punch tells her future stepdaughter Watts and son-in-law Brolin. “If you don’t know people...it’s like a vicious circle.” The whole script is like that, with dialogue that isn’t the least bit interesting.
The narrator tries an informal approach and fails more often than not. His voice and mannerisms are annoying and his timing is off for the most part. Allen even feels the need to have the narrator spell out to the audience the symbolism of Pinto’s red outfits (she is the “Woman in Red”).
As hard as the film is to listen to, it’s even more difficult to look at. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond drenches each frame in an unattractive gold color palette. The lighting, sets, and everything else is bathed in heavy gold. The problem doesn’t lie in garishness but rather that it doesn’t make sense to me within the context of the film and its themes. It becomes a distraction and visually monotonous.
Despite the presence of the wonderful actors, the characters are not genuinely interesting. Whatever quirks they have are forced upon them by the demands of the screenplay. It’s like how a comedian tries to get laughs by wearing funny outfits and hats.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not necessarily a bad movie. It is simply too average and generic for a director as good as Woody Allen. I don’t expect every one of his movies to be the same caliber as, say, Annie Hall. I do expect him to at least continue to write honest stories and characters that are fascinating and unique. It is my hope that he will continue to do so.