Allen is the master of emotional complications

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Who else would ever make a movie of this material? Only Woody Allen is able to conjure up a passel of unlikely characters to pair, un-pair, and re-pair while they dream their various ways into and out of a great big hopper of domestic trouble. It is Allen's great gift that his wildly fertile imagination is never tethered by ordinary plot conventions. In You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, he presents us with Helena (Gemma Jones) and her husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), and with their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin). All are sunk in terminal marital misery.

            In a burst of late middle-aged delusion, Alfie leaves Helena after forty years of marriage to indulge his fancy for a call girl he will rescue. You can imagine the fun when Alfie brings his new love to meet the family. After the abandoned Helena meets a charlatan fortune teller, she inflicts life predictions with the force of truth on her unfortunate family. To escape her dullard husband, Sally takes a job with Greg (Antonio Banderas), a devilishly attractive art dealer. Roy, meanwhile, ogles the beautiful Dia who plays her guitar in a window across the courtyard. You get the idea.

            Allen, the director, deposits these characters on the edge of trouble and lets us follow them as they slip off into the complications created by following their dreams. We all know by now that Allen, the guy, is the master of emotional complications so we smile widely while he sets his characters up to fall. When they invite new people into their dreams, expecting complicity and happiness, watch out.

            Typically, Allen mines pathetic situations for laughter and gets it - a cancelled wedding, reincarnation, business reverses, publishing, a father's return. When others watch this movie in the future - and they will - they will see Allen's exacting picture of the details of the clothes, cars, and habits of the moment including a bi-polar character and a Viagra driven relationship.

            As usual, an eccentric cast delivers for Allen. Naomi Watts does well by the most difficult role - difficult because her character is the nominally sane wife who must try to extinguish family brush fires while trying to escape a long, dull marriage. Everyone around her is nuts. Anthony Hopkins, on a busman's holiday, has fun with Alfie's delusions. Josh Brolin seems too normal to play a nutcase, and when the camera lingers on him, the film slows a bit. Gemma Jones simply levitates wonderfully in her maternal lunacy.

            For more than four decades, Woody Allen has been a world class observer of self-induced dilemmas. In his chronicles of insecurity, he sees all of life in terms of failed attempts to escape emotional entanglements. You can count on chuckling gently from the first scene to last as these loopy characters stumble around in Allen's latest warren of universal human foibles. We love it, of course, because we are human too.


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