Woody Allen’s amazingly consistent rate of production (the last year to pass without a new film from the Woodman was 1976) has gone from admirable to questionable, as his batting average has plummeted over the last decade or so. Many critics have complained that his movies feel a little undercooked, as though they are harmed by both a lack of collaboration (each is written and directed by Allen) and a lack of consideration (maybe with more time between movies his scripts would be sharper and more developed.)
You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger is a film that these critics will justifiably use to prove themselves correct. It is something of an achievement in its own right that such a slapdash, unimpressive screenplay could even get made, let alone attract such a sparkling cast. This is surely due more to reputation than to merit. Stranger is either a comedy without a single laugh, or a drama without any dramatic tension. Either way you look at it, this is a bad film.
The plot is ludicrously unfocused, which necessitates that most unfortunate of narrative contrivances, the voiceover. The narrator introduces us in turn to Alfie Shepridge (Anthony Hopkins) an aging man convinced he can beat the Grim Reaper through strenuous exercise, his ex-wife Helena (Gemma Jones) who consults a fortune teller for comfort, their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) who works in an art gallery for Greg (Antonio Banderas) and fantasizes about cheating on her struggling novelist husband Roy (Josh Brolin). Roy does more than fantasize about cheating, falling for and courting the engaged young guitarist across from his window, Dia (Frieda Pinto).
The story, such as it is, concerns itself with Alfie’s sham second marriage to a prostitute half his age, Helena’s interest in fulfilling her seer’s predictions (one of which lends its name to the movie), and the extreme lengths Roy goes to due to his desperation to be a successful novelist. Only the Roy plotline really goes anywhere, though it is curiously muted for such a shocking resolution.
Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing to recommend this film. Of the performances, only Josh Brolin’s felt at all like it required any effort. There is by my count exactly one joke in the film, and that falls dreadfully flat. Maybe the whole movie is just a big joke on us.