Saturday, October 2, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

After 40 years of film-making Woody Allen has had many peaks and a few valleys. His peaks would include “Annie Hall” (which won Best Picture), “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Match Point” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” the last two which served as cinematic comebacks for a director who seemed steeped in mediocrity in his long career. Last year’s cynically-charged and Christian-bashing “Whatever Works” was definitely one of his valleys, both financially and critically.

In “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” Allen returns to telling stories of the valleys that happen in committed relationships. For Allen fans, “…Stranger…” falls more into the category of melo-drama than the comedic faire he became famous for in the early stages of his career. Thematically, it is akin to the transition films he made in the eighties/nineties such as “Husband and Wives” or “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Though most Allen fans will agree that his latest film does not live up to those two earlier works.

The film examines the lives of Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and their son-in-law Roy (Josh Brolin). Roy is a struggling writer whose lack of success is putting a strain on his marriage. Alfie is feeling the need to be young again and have a relationship with a much younger woman. The four struggle in marriages that are falling apart, as they seek to find love in others they are clearly not suited for.

In the 1980 film “Stardust Memories,” Allen’s character (and some might say film persona) filmmaker Sandy Bates is approached by a woman who comments about his (Bates, but obviously Allen, as well) ‘serious’ films stating, “I especially like your early, funny ones.” She would probably be making the same remark about “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” However the film does not shed much new light on relationships. Couples get bored and think they can find excitement by looking at greener pastures, only to find that they were the problem in the relationship.

“…Stranger…” is highlighted by great performers who are making the best with the material they are given. All in all, the film seems to be a tapestry of unfinished material sewn together by a completely unnecessary narrator who explains what is happening throughout the film, as if the audience couldn’t figure it out for themselves.

As far as objectionable material, the film is rated “R” for a few utterances of the “f” word. There are a couple references to the Lord’s name in vain. Overall, the material is relatively mild. Helena’s character dabbles in mysticism and “new-age” religion by consulting a medium and visiting an occult bookshop where a séance is held. Though this plays an important part in the story’s plot, the medium and her ‘non-scientific’ philosophy is shown as being a charlatan and the “new-age” religion as a fraud that is embraced by the desperately naïve.

The film begins and ends with a quotation from Hamlet that goes, “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Though I would be the last person to call this story-teller an idiot (though clearly some of his characters make a strong case for that title) there definitely is much sound and fury that in the end adds up to very little.

Violence: None / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Mild


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