There are four principal protagonists in Woody Allen’s latest film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and each is seeking more from life than has been dealt to him. Alfie (played by Anthony Hopkins) is a rich, retired man who leaves his ageing wife for a twenty-something hooker who makes him feel younger. His embittered wife Helena (played by Gemma Jones) finds solace in the comforting assurances provided by a fake fortune-teller, and his daughter Sally (played by Naomi Watts) is an assistant at an art gallery who has a crush on her boss. Sally’s novelist husband Roy (played by Josh Brolin) is battling writer’s block, even as he spends his days flirting shamelessly with a pretty neighbor.
Set in London, this film about romantic frustration among the upper class is a satisfying but never quite exhilarating comedy from a filmmaker who’s dealt with the same themes, and written suspiciously similar characters before.
In fact, it’s not surprising that more than one character in this film is convinced that she existed in a previous life – indeed, variations of most characters in this film have popped up before in earlier films by Woody Allen. Hopkins’ character, Alfie, for one, doesn’t seem too far removed from the character Sydney Pollack played in Husbands and Wives – the old guy who dumps his wife for a young hot woman, only to regret it soon enough and beg his wife to take him back.
Despite its familiar elements, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger doesn’t have the sharp wit of Allen’s best films. It does, however, benefit from competent acting by its ensemble cast, particularly Lucy Punch who provides most of the laughs as the ditzy gold-digging hooker who steals Alfie’s heart, and Gemma Jones as the unsuspecting biddy who’s being fleeced by a psychic con-woman. In smaller roles, Antonio Banderas appears as Sally’s gallery owner boss, and Freida Pinto does little else but look pretty as the music student who Roy takes a fancy to.
In the end, the film is but a tepid reflection on ageing and regret. It’s got some clever moments, but those are few and far between. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. It’s far from his best work, but watchable nevertheless.