In his later years, Woody Allen has undoubtedly adopted some new traits, not so much physically (he actually looks pretty much the same), but in terms of the nature of his films. With You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, as with the 2009 film Whatever Works, Allen wastes no time getting straight to the point about just how much life is nothing but “sound and fury signifying nothing.” The succinct derision toward life’s cruel ways is also accented by the song that plays during the trademark credits of an Allen film, “When You Wish Upon A Star.” This particular song choice is overtly tongue in cheek, and it is on this note that we are introduced to Helena (played by the always senile-seeming Gemma Jones), an elderly woman recently left by her husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), in favor of a younger edition (who we later learn is an “actress” a.k.a. prostitute). Not sure where else to turn to for counsel, Helena opts to speak with a fortune teller appropriately named Cristal (Pauline Collins) so that she can know if she has a future worth living for.
Cristal, as with most fortune tellers, is blatantly full of shit. And yet, Helena is eager to accept the “truths” espoused by Cristal because, as both Helena’s daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), and the film’s narrator state, “We need the illusions more than the medicine.” Believing in something–anything–to make the harshest truth of all (read: death) seem less unpleasant is a practice as old as time. And it is something that Allen has been exploring more frequently than ever now that he is in his seventies. Of course, Allen has always had an Ingmar Bergman-esque fascination with death, but it has become heightened with the filmmaker’s imminent demise. Starting with Match Point, it was as though an entirely new era in the motifs of his movies had commenced. Increasingly hopeless and open-ended, especially in film’s like Cassandra’s Dream and even the dark humour of the conclusion to Scoop, Allen has transformed into an unabashed resenter of both life and death. If I had Morrissey’s number, I would almost be inclined to give it to Allen in light of The Smiths lyric, “And when I’m lying in my bed/I think about life and I think about death/And neither one particularly appeals to me.”
Regardless of Allen being less inhibited about how there really aren’t any answers or solutions to the problems of life, he has maintained the same screenwriting and filmmaking tenets that have led critics to elevate him to “auteur” status. For example, though he may be slightly more dashing and masculine, Josh Brolin’s character, Roy, is clearly an extension of the classic neurotic Allen has been fond of portraying himself in the past. Brolin, however, is an atypical casting choice considering the actors Allen has enlisted to loosely emulate him in previous projects, such as Jason Biggs in Anything Else and Larry David in Whatever Works.
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is, overall, a film worthy of matching the prior endeavors put forth by Allen (it’s pretty much on par with the breeziness of Scoop, which Allen could have probably written in his sleep), though there are a few unsatisfying elements. Namely, actress Anna Friel (of Pushing Daisies fame) wasn’t as nearly a developed enough character as she could have been and Allen somewhat lazily decided not to wrap up how things turned out with both Roy and Dia (Freida Pinto, who I predict will soon be highly sought after), the novel Roy steals from his poker chum, and whether or not Sally finds the money to open her own art gallery. The only plotline Allen feels inclined to tie up is the one with Helena and her latest flame. Oh well. If nothing else, at least Nicole Kidman didn’t end up playing the role of Charmaine as originally planned. That would have cut the movie down to half of its comedic worth.