Despite what you think about his more recent films, one thing that we can certainly say about Woody Allen is that his work rate hasn’t slowed in his old age. Despite being 75 years old, Allen is still averaging about one film every year. It’s true that some of his more recent efforts don’t quite match some of his most popular, but even masters of cinema, such as Bergman, did have the odd misfire.
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is Allen’s fortieth feature-length film, and is his fourth film set in London. The setting of London is blatant from the get-go (the sight of a black cab in the opening scene), but it never feels hammy or overused. The story follows the breakdown of two relationships (an older couple, and also their daughter and son-in-law) and subsequent fallout with remarriages and affairs coming out of the woodwork.
So far, so familiar, right? There’s also the fact that one of the characters is Roy (Josh Brolin), who’s an author who hasn’t been able to catch a break since his first novel, and his wife, Sally (Naomi Watts), who works in an art gallery and finds an overwhelming attraction to her boss (Antonio Banderas). Moreover, Sally’s father, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) quickly falls head over heels for a much younger woman following his divorce from his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), who’s begun seeing a fortune teller called Cristal (Pauline Collins).
From my short synopsis above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that someone had written a parody of a Woody Allen film, as he’s hardly venturing onto new ground, but it’s a much more entertaining venture than recent clangers like Match Point. It’s Woody sticking to what he knows, which gives us a much more cohesive film.
The use of the fortune teller does add something different to the usual formula, and Helena’s story is probably the most interesting, as we watch her develop blind faith in a woman who’s clearly taking her for a ride and telling her that she knows the future, when she very blatantly doesn’t.
Part of the film’s success is down to fantastic performances by the ensemble cast. Naomi Watts stands out in the best role that I’ve seen her in since Eastern Promises and manages to define Sally as a character that you truly sympathise with. There are also cameos from Freida Pinto as Roy’s love interest and Anna Friel as Sally’s old school friend.
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is Woody Allen’s best film in quite a while for my money, as far back as 1997’s Deconstructing Harry. It’s definitely the best out of his four London films, but when the competition is so dire, that’s not surprising. Saying that, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger isn’t up with his best work. It would be ranked somewhere in the middle.
Whilst the characters are exceptionally well written and all have dimension, the direction style is incredibly unfussy and it feels as if Woody has phoned it in a little. It’s understandable that, when a director has as high a work rate as Woody Allen, they can’t all be gems. But it has felt as if he’s been going through the motions for around fifteen years. Most of the all-time great directors have duds, but Woody’s tireless work ethic has meant that the majority of his output since the late nineties has been below par, and as a result, Allen could put himself in danger of having more average or bad films than good ones.
So, there we have it, Woody Allen’s best film in years still manages to be an incredibly average one, saved by some excellent performances. His next film, Midnight In Paris, has gained rave reviews so far (with some critics calling it his best since 1994’s fantastic Bullets Over Broadway), and next year’s Bop Decameron contains Woody’s first return to acting since Scoop. So, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger may be a turning point for Woody Allen, and I sincerely hope that it marks a long overdue return to form for him.