For our attention-challenged generation, Woody Allen’s new film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) should satisfy. The film’s pacing between scenes is fast, but the pace within the scenes is even faster. From nervous pacing to walking to jogging, the characters never stop moving and the camera mirrors this action, creating a wonderful sense of chaos.
Allen’s film tells the story of four disillusioned people (two couples), so unhappy with their lives that they begin a desperate search for fulfillment.
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is an elderly man who’s afraid of ageing and who’s still bitter about not having a son. So, he embarks upon the typical mid-life crisis – divorces his wife, buys a sports a car, marries a younger, more attractive woman – the only problem is that, at least judging by appearances, he is well into his seventies. Alfie’s wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), wrought with despair over the divorce, seeks happiness and fulfillment through spirituality, only to end up doling out lots of money to a phony psychic. Alfie and Helena’s daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), is struggling with many things, most of which stem from her husband Roy (Josh Brolin), whose own frustration is punctuated by a string of literary failures following his much-acclaimed first novel. The excellent supporting cast also includes Freida Pinto (pictured).
Only with Woody, right? The elderly Alfie falls in love with an unfaithful prostitute (bizarre, I know), Helena – who, following encouragement from her ‘psychic’, believes she has lived before – becomes enamored with a man who’s trying to contact his dead wife, while Sally flirts with the idea of falling for her married boss who is already in an affair. Roy, meanwhile, falls madly in love with his muse who, fittingly, has a fiancée.
Each thus abandons reason in the hope that their new “tall dark stranger” will bring happiness. It doesn’t for them, but rest assured that it does for the audience – the casting is great, and the characters work brilliantly together, with the four big actors naturally shining, but Gemma Jones really standing out. The crazier she gets, the funnier the movie becomes – especially in her interactions with Roy and Sally. At the end of the movie, it’s a delight for the audience every time she comes on screen.
Like any good Allen film, the jokes are constructed around tension-filled moments – the kind that make viewers belly laugh, but itch with discomfort at the same time. These vignettes are soaked in drama and work so well because of the context – Allen does a great job, from a narrative perspective, of building momentum via each character’s failures. And thus, the snowball effect of madness and hilarity builds and builds into a well-crafted ending – this is one of his best for a while.