' Cinema Romantico: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Aside from "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" I have been rather ambivalent about the last several Woody Allen movies and I have grappled as to why this is and now having seen his 42nd feature film, "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger", and its reliance on the subplot of astrology and fortune telling I do believe I have reached some form of enlightenment. What is astrology really if not convenience? Consider George going to the fortune teller on "Seinfeld" where the fortune teller mentions a "Paulina" and George says he once knew a Paulina and the fortune teller asks "Do you think about her?" and George says "When I hear her name mentioned." Well, sure. Whatever they tell you can easily fit into your own life so long as you make sure it fits, and if there is any one quality running rampant in this Allen screenplay it is convenience.

Okay, let me try and break this all down for you. We've got Roy (Josh Brolin, going Method with a weight gain), an author who wrote one great book and has failed with each subsequent attempt, and he is married to Sally (Naomi Watts) who takes a job at an art gallery and becomes smitten with her flirtacious boss (Antonio Banderas) while Roy becomes smitten with the lovely Dia (Freida Pinto) - likely the most underwritten female character you will see this year in a major motion picture - who lives in an apartment across the courtyard and is engaged to be married. Sally's mother Helena (Gemma Jones) has been left by her husband (Anthony Hopkins) who, in the midst of a late-life crisis, has married a much, much younger woman, Charmaine (Lucy Punch), an ex-trick-turner. Helena has turned to therapy in the form of astrology and nags endlessly at Sally and Roy - while drinking all their liquor - and winds up in love with a kind-hearted owner of an occult bookshop who is still in love - and still converses - with his deceased wife.

Overseeing all this is a narrator (Zak Orth) who keeps us up to date with explanations so no one misses the deeper meaning of the various goings-on and this, of course, is the same stylistic device the Woodman employed on "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" but there it felt it much more genuine, and maybe it just felt much more genuine because Penelope Cruz's Oscar-winning work was so violently, frighteningly sincere that it somehow made all the scripted coincidences ring true.

To ensure the audience grasps the fact all these characters fail to recognize happiness when they have it, the screenplay requires certain events to take place and so these events take place regardless of whether or not the events themselves feel authentic. Dia falls for Roy why exactly? He asks her out to lunch and there is a brief scene or two with some uninteresting dialogue and she's suddenly breaking off her marriage. These sorts of sped-up plot devices are all over the movie. It just hurries everyone along to where they need to go so the necessary points can be made. It's as if Allen can no longer be bothered with the inner-workings of his character's minds which, in turn, makes it come across as if no one is thinking for his or herself.

The narrator trots out the ancient Shakespeare line about how life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Well, there a bit of sound, not much, and there is a little fury, I guess, though it's mostly fraudulent fury, but there is no question that in the end this film doesn't signify much of anything. Why can't Woody start writing actual screenplays again and stop serving up these classroom exercises in metaphysics?

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