Tuesday, 29 March 2011

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Do you ever wonder why no matter how bad a film is there are always a couple of major critics who liked it? And how no matter how good a film is, some critics are not that impressed? I can find you just as many reputable reviews that tell you how horrible the acting was in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger as there are reputable reviews which tell you how great the acting was. How can this be? Can’t professional film critics easily tell the difference between good acting and bad? Isn’t that why they are paid the big bucks?

When it comes to film critics, Woody Allen films are in a league of their own. Critics just love to talk about how derivative Woody’s recent films are, basically all telling the same story, a story Woody told better decades ago, when he made Husbands and Wives (one of my favourite Allen films). So most of Woody’s films of the past fifteen years have been panned by the critics (with the exception of Match Point, another one of my favourites, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which the critics liked more than I did). But almost invariably the critics pan these films because they were directed by Woody Allen, who has apparently lost his way, is bored, is just pumping out the same films over and over because he can or because he has to, etc. This does not impress me. As a lifelong Woody Allen fan, who has seen almost every one of his films, I can say that I have never seen a Woody Allen film I did not enjoy (including that bizarre Shadows and Fog and the messy Cassandra’s Dream). And every single one of the panned ‘derivative’ comedy dramas Woody has made in the past fifteen years is head and shoulders above the the average comedy drama made in those same years, many of which the critics liked better. For me, the critically-acclaimed The Hangover cannot begin to match the worst of Woody’s films. Sure, Woody Allen films are not for everyone (especially those who like today’s excuses for comedy dramas), but I wish the critics, who can’t even tell if Woody’s actors are doing a great or horrible job, would get off his back and let the master do his job, which will always mean a mixture of failures and successes.

Okay, that’s my rant for the day. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (which I will hereafter refer to as Stranger) is Allen’s latest typical derivative comedy drama. It takes place in London (which in an Allen film always seems to remind me of New York City) and concerns a thirty-something couple and her parents. All four of these people are unhappy and think about life married to someone else. In one case, we even get to see what that looks like. And in one particularly brilliant scene, the theme of ‘the grass is always greener’ is summed up beautifully. But the pursuit of happiness and the greener grass does not work out well for three of the four people involved. In fact, they only become more miserable and no doubt wish they could go back to what they once had. In my opinion, these four stories are told very well and are full of humour and irony. Sure, I prefer Mike Leigh’s England, with his stories at the lower end of the social ladder, but this is still good filmmaking.

As for the acting? I thought Gemma Jones was magnificent, as always. Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts also did very well, in my opinion. The only weak link was Josh Brolin, who was a good casting choice for the role but couldn’t quite pull it off. The supporting actors were more than adequate. As was the cinematography.

I was planning to give Stranger *** but realized that this was only because almost no reputable critic gave it more than that. It’s not easy to go out on a limb and say you like a film that all your favourite critics have panned. You can’t help but feel you must be missing something. But darn it, I really enjoyed You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and I’m going to give it ***+. So there! My mug is up and I hope Woody still has a few more films up his sleeve.


  1. I'm truly grateful that you appreciate Woody Allen so that you can provide balance for my own nearly complete lack of such appreciation. This lack of appreciation makes me feel like a bit of a Philistine when it comes to film - hence my gratitude of your more developed taste. It's not that I dislike his films so much as he just doesn't speak my language. Watching a good Allen film (especially if he is a central character), I tend to appreciate the insight and humour at the beginning of the film, but by the end I've just lost interest in his perspective on the world - too dark underneath the humour for me. And I don't discount the possibility that I hold the complete lack of perspective evident in his real life relational world against his art.

  2. I understand your last comment, though that kind of thing never gets in the way for me. I've never quite understood your overall lack of interest in Allen's films, since they are more psychologically interesting than most. There is certainly some darkness underneath the humour in some of his films, but not all (including this one). But l do recognize, as I said, that Allen's films are not enjoyed by everyone.

  3. Sorry - it wasn't painful to watch, but that's about it. It seemed to be reaching for some kind of comic tone which just didn't work for me. **+ and I'm waiting for Midnight in Paris to give Woody Allen another chance.