Like many of Allen’s recent outings, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger feels surprisingly slapdash.
Woody Allen – the Nottingham Forest of the movie world. The heritage you can’t deny but where’s the consistency? Allen’s own Brian Clough era (Annie Hall, Manhattan) might have long passed but there’s still the occasional Championship play-off (Vicky Cristina Barcelona). It’s the unpredictability that kills you.
The fact that You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – his fourth London-set film – is getting released 10 long months after its Cannes debut doesn’t bode well, but at least it’s getting a theatrical release. Scoop, his second, debuted on BBC2.
Things begin flatly. ‘Shakespeare said that life is full of sound and fury,’ states the voiceover, ‘and in the end signifies nothing.’ Nothing? Great. Combined with Allen’s own frequent assertions that his films don’t add up to a whole hill of beans, it’s hardly an enticing start.
Painful exposition doesn’t help. Characters forgo profundities in favour of just explaining what they’ve done, what they’re doing and what they’re about to do. On the plus side, it makes the antics of the ensemble cast incredibly easy to follow. Roy (Josh Brolin) is a frustrated novelist,
his wife, Sally (Naomi Watts), a wannabe gallery owner. He spies on his glamorous neighbour (Freida Pinto), she flirts with her charming boss (Antonio Banderas). Sally’s mother (Gemma Jones), meanwhile, becomes obsessed with psychics in the aftermath of her ex-husband (Anthony Hopkins) marrying a younger woman (Lucy Punch). It’s all told with the simplicity of a Ladybird book, and shows none of the narrative fluency of a filmmaker who once elegantly riffed on Dostoyevsky in 'Crimes & Misdemeanors'.
That’s the main problem. This is the film of a man who’s lost his mojo. There’s no distinct style, no especially vibrant performances, no fresh takes on those age-old Allen themes of fate, voyeurism or old blokes obsessing on young women. If going to Spain to shoot Vicky Cristina Barcelona fired up his love for metropolitan architecture and dramatic passion, then London has snuffed it out. The stiff upper lips of posh British thesps enunciate each line without the easy-going New York (or Mediterranean) swagger that his dialogue relies on, while the settings are drab and nondescript.
Hopkins copes best. Awkward nerviness has consistently been Allen’s best way to get a laugh and, despite his Hannibal Lecter infamy, the former Welshman is a great ditherer (see The Remains of the Day). But he’s part of a random gaggle of neurotics who seem utterly disconnected. Character backgrounds haven’t been thought through, classes mix that never would in real life, Anna Friel (in cameo) is inexplicably Irish.
Like many of Allen’s recent outings, it feels surprisingly slapdash. Even in Vicky Cristina Barcelona he forgot that locals spoke Catalan not Spanish. In a story as lightweight as this, those annoying distractions are the last thing you need.
We’re due a good one.
Hopkins can only take you so far.
Frothy but uninvolving. Again.