Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Reverend's Reviews: Woody Gets Spirichal
In Allen's latest dramedy opening today, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, viewers will re-meet the older man who leaves his wife for a younger woman (à la Hannah and Her Sisters, Another Woman and Husbands and Wives); the struggling author/artist/surgeon/athlete crossing moral/ethical lines to achieve long-denied success (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point); and the prostitute/muse/needy woman who serves as a much-needed voice of conscience (Crimes and Misdemeanors again, Mighty Aphrodite, Match Point again, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; get my point?). It also marks a return stop on Allen's recent international tour, Great Britain.
But if one who has seen more than a few previous Allen productions can suspend their inherent sense of familiarity about the current proceedings, they will discover a typically well-written, wryly humorous and decidedly spiritual (though not religious) take on such timeless themes as love, fidelity, maturity, art and morality. Fantastic performances from a cast that includes Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and Oscar nominees Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts as well as the startlingly good Gemma Jones and Antonio Banderas don't hurt either.
The pivotal figure in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is Helena (Jones, best known in the US as Bridget's mother in the Bridget Jones movies). After being unceremoniously dumped by her husband of 40 years, Alfie (Hopkins), Helena consults a psychic reader to whom she has been referred by her daughter, Sally (Watts), who works in an art gallery owned by Banderas's character, Greg. Sally's husband, Roy (Brolin) is a gifted doctor who gave up medicine for a writing career before he had even practiced.
After Roy's latest manuscript is rejected by his publisher, he undergoes a vocational-midlife crisis and falls for his younger neighbor, Dia (Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto). He also becomes misguidedly inspired to pass a presumably-deceased friend's first, brilliant novel off as his own. Meanwhile, Alfie becomes engaged to Charmaine (Lucy Punch), a woman he has paid for sex for the past two months.
The all-American Brolin, while good, seems miscast in this Euro-centric exercise, and much of the soap opera-esque plot is related through an irritating narrator, Zak Orth. Fortunately, though, Academy Award-winner Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Heaven's Gate) provides typically diffuse lighting and lovely cinematography. Banderas is the most natural and moving he has been in years, and Helena's budding romance with an occult bookshop owner (the charming Roger Ashton-Griffiths) is genuinely touching.
If remixing some of his own material wasn't enough, Allen also borrows from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Ibsen's Ghosts, Lucia di Lammermoor and The Wizard of Oz. "Matrimonial agonies" is the name of the game here... as it has been in virtually every other Allen film. What is a bit unique to the plot of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is its spiritual bent, even if said spirituality is the domain of psychics, occultists and fortunetellers rather than rabbis or "mainstream" clerics. Given Allen's senior status, it seems fitting that he would be questioning spiritual matters (as his colleague, Clint Eastwood, is said to be similarly doing in his new movie, Hereafter, opening in late October).
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not one of Allen's best. That being said, adults looking for thought-provoking fare could do a lot worse right now at the local Cineplex. Piranha 3-D or The Expendables, anyone?
Reverend's Rating: B-
UPDATE: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.