You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
(M, 98 minutes.)
A very belated release for Woody Allen's 2010 London-set romp, which espouses a typically atheist viewpoint while mashing up a series of failing relationships. It clearly precedes Allen's return to form with Midnight in Paris, but is infinitely more interesting than last year's To Rome with Love.
In typical Allen fashion, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) are an ageing couple whose marriage comes unstuck. Alfie pursues a sudden urge to date younger women, in the form of call girl Charmaine (Lucy Punch), while Helena turns to a psychic (Pauline Collins) for guidance. Their daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), is having troubles of her own, stuck in an unhappy marriage with novelist Roy (Josh Brolin), whose eye wanders to an Indian girl (Freida Pinto) across the way from his office. Sally, meanwhile, develops a crush on her art gallery boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas).
As with many recent pieces from Allen, the film feels undercooked in both writing and direction. The dialogue is awkward and unconvincing, while the set-ups can come across as afterthoughts that are seldom believable.
Yet despite such shortcomings, Hopkins fares surprisingly well as the late-life-crisis-stricken Alfie, with his antics providing some much-needed lift in an otherwise curiously humourless film. Jones, as his spurned wife, is also, typically, excellent (there was even talk of an Oscar nod at one point), with Watts delivering something rather different to what we've come to expect. Collins, as the psychic, is a natural.
Allen's seven European pictures, as a whole, have provoked a sharply divided critical response. While some point to Vicky Cristina Barcelona - and, to some extent, even Match Point - as being key to a gradual creative resurgence, others roundly dismiss virtually anything shot outside of his native New York.
True, as a tourist, Allen lacks an inherent sense of place in his new old-world locales, but there's no denying the works offer creative ingredients that warrant inspection. Viewing this post-Midnight in Paris can prove an inevitably mixed experience. There is none of the charm of that sparkling story. Allen's mixed experiences with London stand in sharp contrast with his love affair with the French capital.