Saturday, September 25, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics)

By Harry Forbes

Spiritualism is bunk, and life is nothing but random luck and misfortune, followed by nothingness. Those are the not surprising underlying themes in this latest cinematic permutation of Woody Allen’s nihilistic world view. But until the end of the film, he’s fairly light-handed about it, and thematic material aside, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is one of the writer-director’s most consistently enjoyable films.

Returning to the London setting of “Match Point” and “Scoop,” Allen’s story focuses on two couples Alfie and Helena (Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones) and Roy and Sally (Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts). The wealthy Alfie keenly senses the passage of time and his youth and perhaps the onset of the grim reaper (the symbolic titular figure).

He has left Helena to marry a spirited but common call girl (Lucy Punch). Roy’s a novelist who’s failed to replicate the success of his first book, and has gone to seed, while Sally’s mother (Helena) pays their bills.

Sally, daughter of Alfie and Helena, desperate to have a child and fed up with Roy’s inertia, develops a crush on her gallery owner boss (Antonio Banderas), while Roy pines for the attractive woman (the fetching Frieda Pinto) he watches from his window across the alley.

In her loneliness and confusion, Helena becomes smitten with Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) the rotund owner of an occult bookshop. But all are, in one way or another, ill-matched to the people they desire, and are deluding themselves by thinking otherwise.

Allen has assembled a spot-on cast, all of whom deliver some of their finest work, as actors generally do in an Allen film. Watts is particularly outstanding as the frustrated wife pinning her goals on something unattainable. The scene where she finally tries to confess her pent-up feelings to Banderas is a highpoint.

Versatile Brolin, who put on considerable weight for the role, demonstrates anew what an adept character actor he is.

PBS “Masterpiece Theatre” diehards will fondly recall Jones as “The Duchess of Duke Street,” and will relish seeing her all these years later in such a meaty screen part. And speaking of PBS, “Upstairs Downstairs” alumna Pauline Collins plays the charlatan fortune teller to whom the vulnerable Helena turns when she’s abandoned by her husband.

But it’s almost unfair to single out anyone, as the ensemble cast is so uniformly excellent.

Allen uses some of his trademark narration here, which I’ve sometimes felt has been a lazy substitute for dialogue, but this script is solidly constructed, and gives his actors a solid foundation. The plot consistently holds your interest with a delectable O. Henry-like twist late in the film.

(Rated R by the MPAA for some language.) Print this post


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