It pains me to give a Woody Allen film a meagre two stars. I thought long and hard about the good aspects of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) – a host of well respected actors including Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, plus the fact that this was to be Allen’s definitive cinematic vision of his London; but ultimately, the film falls sadly flat.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the film to seminal works like Manhattan (1979) or Play it Again Sam (1972), as it falls down in comparison to these early Allen masterpieces, but that’s not the real issue. If this was his first film it would have been laughed out of the box offices as a pitiful attempt at pseudo-intellectual wit.
The film portrays a gaggle of well educated, middle class white men and women trying to find their way in the troublesome world of relationships. Firstly we have Alfie (Hopkins) a man going through a crisis which results in him leaving his star-sign-clairvoyant loving wife Helena for a prostitute whom he convinces to marry him. Then there is their daughter Sally (Watts) who is troubled by her husband Roy (Brolin) who, whilst struggling to finish his second novel, allows his eye to wander to the girl next door Dia (Freida Pinto), as Sally’s affections turn to her boss (Banderas).
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger follows their ups and downs against a backdrop of upper-middle class London with Woody Allen’s usual cynicism loosely directed at the idea of how foolish people are when their superstition leads them to ignore the “reality” around them.
I was excited at the prospect of Allen tackling London for his next film, after all his New York is so distinctively recognisable – he understands the nuances of the city, and taps into its life blood. This, I’m sad to say, is not the case with London. The capital city he portrays is a transparent mould of a city that could be any urban backdrop. It is the complete antithesis of Allen’s New York which, whilst being highly personalised, oozes the character of the busy metropolis.
The failure to capture the essence of London is not the only problem with the film. Although the stories themselves have potential they are ultimately dry and un-captivating. The characters have not been given enough space to grow and by the end of the film you aren’t so much bored as frustrated that you never really got to know them properly.
In many ways, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is typically Allen-esque and he will probably be criticised for making the same movie again in a different setting, but this really isn’t the main problem. The central failure of this film is its massive underdevelopment – the writing is good but feels like a second draft that needs a few more rewrites to bring it up to par. Perhaps Allen needs reminding about quality versus quantity.
Allen is currently working on another two titles, Midnight in Paris (2011) and Bop Decameron (2012), and after watching You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger enthusiasm for future projects is going to be harder to muster.