You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is a ‘middle’ Woody Allen film, better than Hollywood Ending but worse than The Purple Rose of Cairo. The meandering plot contains all of the unhappy marriages, May-December romances, illicit affairs, moral failings, and reversals of fate that are the meat and potatoes of Allen’s stories. It’s like he condensed Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the supernatural window-dressing of Alice and dropped these elements onto the set of Match Point – or a few blocks down to the townhouses of the London upper middle class.
Since he is second to none at crafting talky dramedies and because he is backed by a casually brilliant cast (one of countless dream teams Allen can summon on the spot), this fable of love gained, lost, and almost gained is fluffy, enjoyable, and occasionally poignant. There is not so much a dramatic arc as a handful of short films weaving across each other. Youth-obsessed Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) drops his wife Helena for being ‘too old’ and gets a bachelor pad, a tan, and a prostitute girlfriend (Lucy Punch, who you may remember as Darla from Dinner For Schmucks). Helena (Gemma Jones) begins seeing a fortune-teller for advice while her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) tires of her husband Roy (Josh Brolin). Brolin’s failed writer waits for a verdict from his publisher while spying on his alluring neighbour Dia, played by the alluring Freida Pinto. Sally is also distracted: her boss Greg (Antonio Banderas) may or may not want to have an affair with her.
Allen’s jabbing wit comes through these familiar tales, bookended by Zack Orth’s narration. When Helena falls for Jonathan (thespian Roger Ashton-Griffiths), she has to first overcome the memory of his wife. “She’s deceased,” she tells her daughter with a glass of whisky in her hand, “They’re always the stiffest competition, no pun intended.” When a friend supposedly dies, Roy steals his brilliant manuscript, only to discover the friend is recovering from a coma. These moments of irony are enough to make Tall Dark Stranger worth seeing, but it is clearly a film for an Allen devotee.