Tuesday, November 2, 2010

You Will Meet a Talk Dark Stranger

"Man Makes Plans. God Laughs."
"The 'Thing Without Feathers' Turns Out to be My Nephew."

With a title like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, you know this won't be one of Woody Allen's autobiographical tales.  The Woodman never strays too far from All Things Woody, his characters usually being scrambled aspects of himself, with one character being a direct comic stand-in.  The likes of Kenneth Branagh, Mia Farrow, John Cusack, Larry David and Edward Norton have all been past dopple-neuroti-gangers for the writer-director.  Rarely has there been a film of his without one.

This is one of those rare films, although one could say this tangled web of London residents could all be aspects of Allen's personality, with the closest being (maybe) Anthony Hopkins' Senior Fool.  One needs a play-book to keep everybody in this rondeau straight, although they are all in each others' orbits.  Start with Hopkins' Alfie—married to Helena (Gemma Jones), parents of Sally (Naomi Watts), wife of Roy (Josh Brolin).  Alfie, going through his "middle-age crazy" period, divorces Helena, sending her to a faux psychic (Pauline Collins) in her grief.  This all upsets Sally, who's trying to make ends meet working for a gallery owner, Greg (Antonio Banderas) while her husband is becoming frayed trying to write a follow-up to his previous publishing success.  Basically, everyone's in the weeds, and it's not long before everybody decides that somebody else's grass in better than their own.  Soon Da is marrying a call-girl/"actress" (Lucy Punch), Roy is pursuing a neighbor he keeps oggling through his window (Freida Pinto), and Sally starts to have feelings for her boss, as her feelings for Roy start to wane.

Allen starts and ends the movie with Leon Redbone warbling "When You Wish Upon a Star," and begins with Helena visiting a psychic, making one think that instead of a rating designation ("R," btw), it should have a sign saying "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Sit in the Auditorium."  That he equates spiritualism as just a more rigorous form of "hoping against hope" (when the two are merely con-games with different sources—second-hand or internal) is dispiriting, and though it's a continuation of his life-view—"full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly"—there isn't the shrugging whimsey that serves as a warming punch-line this time.

For it may be true, as Emily Dickinson says, that "Hope is a thing without feathers" (and Allen's screwball lateral to that is the second title for this review), and "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride," I tend to take the more optimistic view.  Yes, there will always be poor (because Jesus tells me so) without a nagging destiny, that's no reason that, even though their feet are perpetually on the ground, they shouldn't be reaching for the stars.

Because there will always be stars, too, even if we don't see them, and even if we're not looking for them.  It's why I keep looking up at them.  It's why Woody Allen keeps making movies. 

Maybe his next one will be better.  I hope. 

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a Rental. 


The Mad Hatter said...

I had high hopes for this film, thinking that it just might join Allen's neo-classics like MATCH POINT and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA.

No such luck.

Perhaps it's because we really didn't have anyone to pull for in this story, since everyone is acting so selfishly. Selfishly and impulsively as it happens.

There were a few moments that gave me a grin ("No, I wasn't thinking about.....AIDS", Brolin's ultimate fate), but by and large I'm with you. This is a Woody renter. At best.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Well, there's no one to pull for...AND there's no resolution of their fates. It's Chekhov without balls. It would serve as a fine cautionary tale (to me, for one) if there was some moral perspective to it. As it is, there is merely ambivalence. The same sort of ambivalence I feel towards this film. Liked Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona, as you did. He's still got it. Just not this time.