Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Film Review: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

"You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

"You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" (2010) is a typical Woody Allen movie. Depending upon your feelings for the legendary comic filmmaker that can either be a blessing or a curse. For those that like Allen, the film goes over familiar themes and ideas which have preoccupied previous Allen characters and have entertained us.

Yet, there are those who complain, Allen has nothing fresh or meaningful to say on these subjects. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wondered if Allen even enjoys making films anymore or is he simply going through the motions.

I always find it so sad when film critics and the public seem to relish condemning our great filmmakers yet praise the latest "flavor of the month" as a cinematic genius.

I'm going to defend Allen's latest film. Yes, it hits familiar ground, but, Allen has become something of a master of these topics. I feel he always finds a new way to present his ideas on love, life and luck.

"You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" begins with credits being shown while the song "When You Wish Upon A Star" plays. And here, immediately Allen is setting up what his film will be about. People wishing on a star. People searching for their dreams to come true. People who feel so defeated in their own lives they turn to the heavens, the stars, for answers.

The film starts off by introducing us to Helena (Gemma Jones). She is recently divorced from her husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins). She has decided to see a psychic, Cristal (Pauline Collins), who somehow always manages to say exactly what Helena wants to hear. One day Cristal foresees a tall dark stranger will enter Helena's life.

And strangely enough this is exactly what Helena needed to hear since Alfie is about to marry a much younger woman, an "actress", Charmaine (Lucy Punch). You see, the reason Alfie and Helena divorced is because Alfie suddenly realized he is getting old. The years have gone by and he wants to fight off death. How? Work out more, eat healthy, buy a new sports car. Try, in some way, to recapture the vigor of his youth. Helena has simply gotten "too old" for him.

Now Alfie and Helena have a daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts) who is married to Roy (Josh Brolin). Roy is a novelist, who showed great promise after writing his first novel. Since that time he has not completed another. He is intimated by his own success and what expectations some may have for his next book. As a result of this, Helena helps pays the bills while Sally goes back to work at an art gallery run by Greg (Antonio Banderas).

These financial troubles are starting to have a strain on Sally and Roy's marriage. Sally wants to have a child while Roy wants to finish his second novel. Their constant bickering leads Roy to notice a young, beautiful musician who has moved across from them, Dia (Freida Pinto). And has lead Sally to notice Greg.

Allen is playing with some big themes here. And it is nothing we haven't seen before in "Everyone Says I Love You" (1996), "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (1982) or "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008). And like "Barcelona" we have an unseen narrator explaining all these characters to us. Giving the movie a novel on film feel to it, much like "Hannah & Her Sisters" (1986) or "Crimes & Misdemeanors" (1989).

But Allen is playful with this material. It is a whimsical, charming light diversion pondering the importance of luck and chance in our lives. The musings of love and our fear of death and growing old.

Every single character in this film is searching for love. This however made me think of society today and my generation. Technology they say has brought us closer together. We have the ability to instantly connect with people thanks to dating websites and facebook. But are people really searching for love? Is Allen's tale an outdated one? One which only a certain age group will relate to? People of my age don't seem to want relationships. They seem content with causal dating and hookups. The desire to find someone and have a meaningful connection with them appears to be a social relic. Something our grandparents did.

Watching "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" made me think of the work of two great filmmakers before Allen. The wonderful French filmmaker Eric Rohmer and the gifted Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira. Two directors whom have shown us young and old people falling in love, talking about love and searching for love all with an amusing twist. The sequences with Roy spying on his pretty neighbor made me think of de Oliveira's "Eccentricities of A Blond Hair Girl" (2009). The idea being, what we can't have always seems more appealing.

Even though this film was shot in London, Allen doesn't film it as a British story. London does not play a prominent part in the film. The movie could have taken place in any large city, even Allen's beloved New York. I also like that Allen has went back to using classic jazz standards in the soundtrack. In films like "Match Point" (2005), "Cassandra's Dream" (2007) and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", Allen shifted away from it. My guess was he felt jazz was too low brow for the sophisticated European settings.

The film also marks Allen's third collaboration which famed Hungarian cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who won an Oscar for his work on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977). With Allen, Zsigmond has worked on "Melinda & Melinda" (2005) and "Cassandra's Dream". Needless to say this film is shot much different that "Cassandra". "You Will Meet" has a much lighter tone to it. While Zsigmond doesn't show off London, he does give the film a proper look which almost gives the film a nostalgic feel to it. A kind of 1930s comedy vibe.

I enjoyed "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" more than I thought I would. The film isn't as profound in its themes as say "Match Point" but I don't think that was Allen's intention. Allen, I suspect, wanted to have a little cosmic fun. A story about what we chose to put our faith in and how that helps us interpret what life brings our way. What we may think are meaningful signs into our existence may actually be sheer dumb luck and coincidence.