Review: Tall Dark Stranger is short on laughs

Review: Tall Dark Stranger is short on laughs

Source: AssociatedPress

By: Christy Lemire

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Friday 24 September 2010

Movie Title

Review: Tall Dark Stranger is short on laughs


Woody Allen

Star Cast

Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Gemma Jones

Woody Allen is once again gleefully messing with his ridiculous characters' lives in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, but there isn't much joy for anyone watching.

Sure, there are some laughs to be had here and there at the sheer absurdity of it all. But mostly these people feel shallow, and it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for their foibles. They're just like us, Allen seems to be saying ? except they're less interesting.

Not that it matters all that much. This is a very minor entry in the writer-director's prodigious canon, despite the major-league cast: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas. But it's a couple of supporting players who make the greatest impression: and Lucy Punch, who represent opposite ends on the spectrum of female desirability.

And desire is what You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is all about. These people all want something or someone that's different ? or as they perceive it, better ? than what they have, whether it's a job, an apartment or a new love.

Set in London like Allen's recent Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger similarly features the intertwined lives of the rich and the far less privileged who covet such wealth. And like Vicky Cristina Barcelona ? his best film in quite a while, which earned Penelope Cruz a supporting-actress Oscar ? this comedy has a narrator commenting on the characters' misadventures in stiff, almost mocking tones, quoting overused Shakespeare to illuminate his points.

Hopkins stars as wealthy Alfie Shepridge, who decides one day he's tired of being married to his longtime wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), and sets off on a new life of workouts, nightclubs and much younger women. The one he ends up falling for, though, is a working-class call girl and wannabe actress named Charmaine (Punch), whose paid-for affections he mistakes for love. It's a broad character, but Punch provides easy humor with her gangly, tacky presence, and things are far livelier when she's around.

Helena, meanwhile, heads off to a fake psychic (which, come to think of it, sounds redundant) who tells her what she wants to hear and takes her money. Helena then drops in after each session, unannounced, on her daughter, Sally (Watts), and Sally's American husband, Roy (Brolin), who are having marital problems of their own. With her passive-aggressive digs, Jones also provides some laughs, but these'll make you squirm, too, because they hit a bit close to home.

Sally is an assistant at an art gallery, working for the sophisticated Greg Clemente (Banderas). But just as her career is taking off, she feels frustrated at home: She wants to have a baby, which Roy is reluctant to do. He's busy working on his second novel and trying to prove his successful first book was no fluke. Barely making any money, they're stuck living in a cramped flat. But the upside of that, for Roy at least, is the view: of the mysterious young woman who lives across the way, always wears red and plays the guitar beautifully. When he flirts his way into a lunch with her, Allen shows us up-close who this gorgeous creature is: Pinto, the star of Slumdog Millionaire, and that first shot of her face will take your breath away.

Of course, she's not the answer to Roy's troubles, either, just as Charmaine won't make Alfie's life better and the psychic won't lead Helena in the right direction. They can all dream. We may or may not care.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, a Sony Pictures classics release, is rated R for some language.

Running time: 98 minutes

Rating: Two stars out of four

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