After Alfie (Anthony Hopskins) leaves Helena (Gemma Jones) to desperately pursue his lost youth and a twenty year old ‘actress’ Charmaine (Lucy Punch), Helena abandons rationality and surrenders her life to the loopy advice of a charlatan fortune-teller (Pauline Collins). While their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) deals with the fall out and her own marital dissatisfaction, she develops a crush on her handsome art gallery owner boss, Greg (Banderas) and her novelist husband Roy (Josh Brolin), becomes infatuated with Dia (Freda Pinto). If you’re a Woody Allen fan, reading that synopsis – or indeed viewing the introduction to You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger you’d pre-empt a veritable plethora of situations that are perfectly suited to his characteristic, agonisingly neurotic humour. However, the pitch of Stranger lies between the poles of the tense, intimate thrills of Match Point and the joyous and hilarious Vicky Christina Barcelona – making for a collection of desperate people failing at everything.
The rapid-fire cadence of Allen’s writing is present and in previous works he’s able to have infuriatingly realistic supporting characters that play the antagonistic foil to the character that we’re (the audience) rooting for. The equilibrium is immediately disturbed as Stranger bombards you with universally selfish and unlikeable characters, intent on using whomever they interact with. The classical staging, and framing of each scene constructs physical and temporal spaces for actors to do great work. Allen’s voyeuristic gaze upon the female form (particularly Watts, Punch and Pinto) feels perverse in the context of this sordid affair.
The only stand-out character of the piece was Collins’ psychic – who in a vacuum is quite the loveable fraud. And yet once you register her charlatan effect on Helena – she shifts into an exploitative, hot air wafting over a desperate and fragile senior citizen.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is the amnesiac relative of Allen’s body of work. It’s wearing the fleshy mask of all that you love; but conducts itself with an abrasive and frightened detachment.
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Gemma Jones, Pauline Collins, Antonio Banderas and Josh Brolin