Two years ago, when Woody Allen first announced a film in the works starring Larry David, I was peeing-in-my-pants excited. How could Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Annie Hall possibly go wrong? When Whatever Works finally came out last year, however, I found out how. It went wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. It didn’t stoop to Twilight levels or anything, but I had such high expectations and the movie fell totally, depressingly flat.
I never thought I’d forgive Woody Allen for that unmitigated disaster. Fortunately, my opinion clearly devastated the 74-year-old writer/director/sometimes actor, because has since worked tirelessly to redeem himself in my eyes and has at last done so with his new film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
Stranger takes place in London – it’s been a while since Woody Allen, the quintessential New York City filmmaker, actually made a movie in New York — and begins when Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) asks for a divorce from his wife Helena (Gemma Jones) and takes up with a 20-something leggy blonde – an “actress,” he calls her. Distraught, Helena seeks out a clairvoyant for therapy. Their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) simultaneously faces relationship woes: she is enamored of her boss (Antonio Banderas), but unhappily married to her husband Roy (Josh Brolin), a one hit wonder novelist struggling to write a second book. Roy isn’t happy in the marriage either, and instead of trying to mend the relationship, he creeps on his hot neighbor (Freida Pinto) through her apartment window as she makes music and takes off her clothes.
The family is going through a collective midlife crisis, albeit at different ages and at very different stages in life. At the center of the film is the question (conveniently posed to us by the film’s narrator): how do people get through the uncertainties and pain in life? Each member of the family has their own way of answering that question. Marrying a prostitute is one way. Hanging on the every word of a nut job psychic fraud is another option. Having an affair, yet another way. None are conventional approaches most people would take, but that’s the point. Different approaches work for different people.
While this is a movie about the uncertainties and pain in life, I still found myself smiling through most of it. There weren’t a ton of punchlines, but there didn’t need to be. The movie feels like a Coen Brothers-esque roller coaster – characters falling in and out of love, getting away with doing horrible things, being foiled in the end by getting tangled up in their lies to each other and, more importantly, their lies to themselves.
The acting was fantastic. The writing, if not exactly joke-filled, was still funny (the whimsical score didn’t hurt), and the directing was classic Woody Allen. It gets a 5/5.