Tuesday, 1 February 2011

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Woody Allen, USA/ Spain 2010

Woody Allen's last offering falls under what I choose to dub his Dostojevskyan films - films that are concerned with the meaning of life. True, seen this way, all Woody Allen films are Dostojevskyan in one way or another, although there are a few exceptions - Sweet and Lowdown, Hollywood Ending, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, to name but a few - that are lighter in tone and less preoccupied with the oddities and sheer randomness of our existence. I find that ever since Matchball, Allen's films have become darker again - a result of him getting (old)er? - which suits me, incurable pessimist that I am, just fine. In fact, although You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger offers few new insights - let alone any comfort - as to why we're here and what the deuce this is all about, I very much liked this film, if only because it captured the futility of it all, the irony of our lives and of our actions, in a way that only Allen can. I sometimes wonder where exactly Allen's wisdom - or call it pessimism, if you will - orginates from since his own life could not have been more fortunate and successful. But then, that's me looking in from the outside. And as every Woody Allen fan has learned over the years: A view from the outside is always blurred, distorted and thus hopelessly unreliable.

While not quite as sombre as Cassandra's Dream - in which the Dostojevkyan touch was not just a touch but a punch in every Pollyanna's face - You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger still basically tells you that whatever we may do or not do, we are all at the mercy of fate at every twist and turn of our lives. And one day you lose and the next you may win. If you're lucky. I'm surprised that given Allen's pessimism and his penchant for making films in Europe, he has yet to make a film in Germany. No other nation, it is widely believed, is better at pessimism than the Germans. So it seems to me Allen would be well advised to select Berlin as a location for his next film ( ... suggestion for a screenplay: Scarlett Johansson plays an American exchange student and au-pair based in Berlin where she babysits for the US ambassador to Germany, played by Josh Brolin who falls hopelessly in love with her, but sexy Scarlett, however, has her eyes set on her professor at the Truro College, played by Bruno Ganz ... and so on ...).

The premise of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a line not by Dostojevsky, but - lo and behold - by Shakespeare, from Macbeth to be precise: "Life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". And I'm sure that's precisely how more than one critic see Allen's latest film. And yet, although the film's premise may be a truism - after all, Shakepeare had that one figured out 500 years ago - not only am I very much in line with Allen's Shakespearean-Dostojevskyan view of the world, but I also like Allen's perceptions, the way he crafts a story, fist-tight and often hilarious dialogue included, and brings it to the screen. I've always said that even the worst Woody Allen films are better and more entertaining than 90% of all films out there.

So yes, though this is perhaps not exactly vintage Allen, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger still is a pretty good film, well observed, well written and, as always in a Woody Allen film, there's excellent acting all around with a cast led by Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin. Though the real surprise and discovery is newcomer Lucy Punch who besides providing some much needed comic relief, also brings a new meaning to the term Essex Girl .