It seems now that if you wander the streets of any major city outside the United States, you run the risk of bumping into the displaced New York City neuroses of Woody Allen or his ever-changing cast of dopplegangers. I have to say I believe his head games travel well (London and Barcelona have become his favorite homes away from home) and there’s an almost renewed sense of life in him as a filmmaker with the likes of Cassandra’s Dream, Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona as strong evidence of his resurgence.
And with his latest, the cryptically titled You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Allen reaches out to a thoroughly eclectic group of collaborators (Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, and Freida Pinto to name a few here) for a tale of marital discord with the fickleness of fate reshuffling the deck against a multi-generational gaggle of would-be couples.
After years of marriage, Alfie (Hopkins) divorces Helena (Gemma Jones) and sets off into the world of swinging singles with the typical dream of finding a young trophy wife able to bear him the son he and Helena never had. Left on her own, Helena places her faith in the future (and a great deal of money) in the hands of a psychic (Pauline Collins). Alfie and Helena’s daughter Sally (Watts) and her husband Roy (Brolin) also find themselves drifting apart. Working at a private gallery, Sally fights her attraction for her boss (Antonio Banderas), while Roy, a writer battling through a rough patch with a new manuscript that is not generating the necessary buzz within his publishing house to land a release spot, develops an interest in Dia (Pinto), a beautiful musician he takes a voyeuristic interest in who lives across the way.
The inevitable breaking and rebreaking of links between the various pairings has, in some cases, real comic charm. For instance, Alfie hooks up with a bubblicious escort named Charmaine (Lucy Punch), who rides him nearly into the ground. There are also some sad dramatic truths in the mix (Helena’s deepening dependence on a likely charlatan for advice achieves addiction status and begs for an intervention, but no one around her has either the time or the inclination to break free from their own self-delusions). The story seeks to approximate the feel of Shakespeare (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream possibly without the overt presence of magic or Kenneth Branagh’s earthy Much Ado About Nothing), it remains very much a Woody Allen affair, tongue-tied and twisted up in its own head a bit too much for its own good. And while it doesn’t quite match his stellar Match Point or the fiery romance of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, his new Stranger is a generally alluring stop on his long dark journey. (tt stern-enzi)