Midway through Woody Allen’s latest dramedy, Anna Friel’s small role as a budding artist laments to her long time friend Sally (Naomi Watts) that the affair she has recently entered into has turned her life into something resembling a soap opera. This description could not be a more apt term to describe You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), Allen’s fourth peep behind the curtains of London’s privileged bourgeois, starring an impressive ensemble cast and a fairly standard Allen narrative.
The film charts the various ups and downs of a group of Londoners all facing crippling marital problems; Sally (Watts) is trapped within a loveless, childless marriage to Roy (Josh Brolin), a writer with only one hit novel under his belt, whilst harbouring a slight crush on her boss, played by Antonio Banderas.
Roy is falling for Dia (Freida Pinto), the gorgeous woman he stares longingly at through the window of the flat opposite, who is engaged to be married to an often absent partner. Additionally, Sally’s recently divorced parents, emotionally fraught Helena (Gemma Jones) and prosperous Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), are both struggling with post-marital life; Helena has set about trying to find spiritual assurance for her unknowing future with her questionable psychic, whereas Alfie remarries almost immediately to a prostitute named Charmaine (Lucy Punch), a materialistic bimbo who is almost half his age.
One always waits with bated breath and longing anticipation when it comes to Woody Allen’s annual cinematic offering, partly because it’s always refreshing to see him back on the big screen, but mostly to see whether the seasoned director has the ability to return to the glory days of his career.
Being a member of a relatively small minority who believe that Allen is still one of the finest directors working in (and frequently outside) America today, it is with a sigh of relief to note that, as fluffy and lightweight as You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is, it is far from a bad film. Sure, it pales in comparison to the effortless beauty of Manhattan (1979), the intricately composed Annie Hall (1977) or the charmingly melancholic Radio Days (1987), a handful of his finest achievements, but it is still a solid, albeit generic entry into his chequered oeuvre.
Shot by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who was responsible for representing a grainy looking London in Allen’s incredibly flawed Cassandra’s Dream (2007), the capital here looks the complete opposite; never before has London looked so sun-kissed, so soft, so stranger, reminiscent of the way Javier Aguirresarobe exploited the luminous setting of a radiant Barcelona in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Zsigmond’s cinematography for You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is overly televisual and bright, adding to the films dainty tone but overshadowing the inherent darkness that courses through its frothy veins.
Performances, on the other hand, range from fine, to just okay, with Naomi Watts appearing to be the weakest link and Brolin seemingly phoning in his morally repugnant character, whose belated plot twist appearing from nowhere and belonging to a different film entirely. It’s Hopkins and Jones who offer the most watchable and indeed likeable story arcs; two geriatric lost souls searching for something they may have already found, characters who are painfully convincing and fully deserving of a feature focused solely on them (something I would have much preferred).
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not one of Woody Allen’s worst films, it’s just rather uninspired and insubstantial, but entirely watchable, with an ending that paves the way for his next ensemble piece, Midnight in Paris (2011). Let’s hope the city of love proves a more fruitful locale for Allen, inspiring him to craft something that’s more than just plainly acceptable.