Thursday, 15 December 2011



Maybe I'm the only one left, but I still watch Woody Allen movies in the hope of agreeable, civilised, cultured entertainment with a brain and with a sense of humour that doesn't rely on poo, knobs or crass sexism and stereotypes. Perhaps it's not entirely fair to suggest he hasn't made a genuinely terrific movie for about 20 years - I've missed some of them, and some haven't even been released to the UK - but even the best of his more recent ones certainly aren't up there with Annie Hall or Love And Death. (And that said, even some of the classic "early funny ones" aren't as good as everyone makes out: I honestly struggled with Everything You Always..... and even Sleeper.)

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is a loose assemblage of vignettes chronicling the various relationships of two London couples: elderly Anthony Hopkins who has a midlife crisis and ditches his slightly dotty wife Gemma Jones for prostitute/actress/gold-digger Lucy Punch, and Naomi Watts (Hopkins and Jones' daughter): attracted to her married boss Antonio Banderas but herself married to struggling writer and general tool Josh Brolin - who is in turn attracted to Freida Pinto, the musicology student next door. Pinto is in turn already engaged to a diplomat, Watts wants a family, and Jones is falling into spiritualism courtesy of dodgy medium Pauline Collins.

It would be marvellous if it had all ended with custard pies or a fight at a wedding. But it doesn't really end at all: it just stops abruptly with a voiceover to the effect of "and there we must leave them", so even if you were passingly intrigued by these people and their non-hilarious situations, there's no sense of resolution. And it doesn't have one single joke in it. It doesn't even have any jokes that don't work - jokes which you know are jokes but which aren't funny: not only are there no laughs, but there are no failed laughs. Nor are there any particularly interesting characters you want to spend any time with: aside from a pleasing turn of fate for the odious Brolin it's hard to care about any of these mewling, self-absorbed individuals and their self-inflicted problems. So in addition to not working as a comedy, it doesn't work as a character drama and for a Woody Allen movie that's not good enough. You don't expect car chases or Martian invaders in an Allen film but you do expect character and/or comedy and/or drama.

Maybe it's London's fault. I haven't seen Scoop or Match Point (Scoop wasn't even released in this country although it did creep out on BBC2 one night) but Cassandra's Dream was a similarly unsatisfying and humourless stodge; before this he did Vicky Cristina Barcelona which was mildly amusing (although no real laughs) and since You Will Meet... we had the rather charming (but still far from hilarious) Midnight In Paris. And his next one's set in Rome. But the last funny one - the last one with actual hahaha oneliners in it - was Whatever Works (which nobody but me seemed to like very much), a film set in Allen's New York. Possibly as a result of the home turf, Whatever Works has 26 entries on its Memorable Quotes page on the IMDb. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger has just one which is, to paraphrase Arthur Dent, "obviously some strange usage of the word Memorable that I wasn't previously aware of." (Genuinely, I looked at it not three minutes ago and can't remember it.)

It's also an odd mixture of accents as Hopkins does Hopkins, Punch does Chav, Banderas does Spanish, Brolin does American, Watts puts on English (but uses the American pronunciation of "imbecile" to rhyme with "whistle" rather than "Lucille"). Obviously it's always good to see Sir Anthony, and it's pleasantly surprising to see people like Philip Glenister, Lynda Baron, Anna Friel, Meera Syal and Ewen Bremner turning up for tiny roles. But it just isn't any fun and you're left wondering what the point of the exercise was. Allen is now 76 and he really doesn't need to make a film or two every year, especially if it's just for the sake of it. It is a civilised, cultured film, and you can believe in these people; you're just not that bothered what happens to them.


You Will Buy:

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