Featuring: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones, Pauline Collins, Lucy Punch, Frieda Pinto, Antonio Banderas
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Perth release date: Thursday 17th January
Reviewer: Karen (one-word verdict: forgettable)
Two married couples, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and husband Roy (Josh Brolin), come unstuck as mid-life crises, various anxieties and biological urges wreak havoc. Helena finds a guru in a charlatan fortune teller when, in hopeless pursuit of his lost youth, Alfie leaves her for tacky but free-spirited call girl Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Frustrated with novelist Roy’s lack of career success and unwillingness to take on parenthood, Sally falls for her handsome art gallery owner boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas). Roy, nervously awaiting his publisher’s response to his latest manuscript, spies on the gorgeous Dia (Freida Pinto), who lives in an apartment opposite, until a real-life encounter with her breathes life into his voyeuristic fantasies.
This film was made in 2010; two subsequently-made Woody Allen films have beaten it to release here. I imagine there’s a dedicated band of Woody fans who would not miss seeing You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, but had it not been for the success of Midnight in Paris, they might have been heading to the DVD rental store to do so. You’d get value for money in a bulk deal there, but if you had to fork over double-digit dollars in a cinema to see this trite, lazy effort from a supposed master, you might well be miffed.
The film is standard Woody Allen fare examining foibles of human nature, in this case delusion. But it feels like he is just going through the motions here. Truthfully, I struggled to stay awake, and asked myself whether, if anyone other than the Woodster himself had presented this pedestrian script, they would have got finance. And serious money would be needed to employ the talented team who put together this polished product.
The craftspeople and actors are at least, competent, and at best, wasted in the service of this boring shallow tale about boring self-absorbed people.
Now you know I’m not a fan of Woody Allen’s films, but I didn’t dismiss this one out of hand. I like Naomi Watts – and she’s good in this – and I wanted to like the entire film. At the very least I was prepared to laugh. But the film isn’t funny enough to be classified as a comedy, and it’s not serious enough for drama, and it’s not credible enough to be taken seriously at all.
The storylines are ridiculous and the characterisations that give rise to them are lazy and clichéd. It might be understandable that a wealthy middle-aged man (Anthony Hopkins) might leave his wife (Gemma Jones) for a younger woman (Lucy Punch), but that this younger woman is a hooker, and a particularly declassee one at that, is beyond belief.
And does his wife – whose friends help her out by employing her as a fashion consultant because she supposedly has a flair! – have to be so frumpy? The major theme is about how people delude themselves, but while it is credible that a dumped elderly wife might fall prey to a charlatan fortune teller (Pauline Collins), the rest of this character is mere caricature. The idea of the utterly unchic, unmade-up, well-bred wealthy British matron is undoubtedly fascinating to Woody, but he has not captured her here.
Allen’s stylistic tic of voice-over narration adds nothing to the script, and is often redundant, describing things that we can clearly see or infer for ourselves. It feels like a self-conscious device, reminding us that films are stories. Well, duh, I don’t think I’m alone in being aware of that already. But I suspect that using this device, which is handy for exposition if you don’t want to write scenes and dialogue that include info the audience needs to know, may lead the scriptwriter down the path of not bothering with well-thought-out character development at all. Without the narrator (and who is he, anyway?), Allen would be forced to come up with the goods, scriptwise. (As would any aspiring film writer who presented this work to a professional script editor.)
There’s a curious parallel in the film as the writer, Roy (Josh Brolin, looking very cast against type, and in ill-fitting pants), fails to come up with the goods for his second novel. His relegation to one-hit-wonder status looks like destroying his self-esteem, but he finds not one, but two ways out. In a horrible reminder, for me, of that woeful turkey, The Words, he purloins his friend’s improbably secret, complete, and excellent novel and presents it as his own to his thrilled and credulous publisher; and also, natch, he pursues a muse, the radiant Dia (Frieda Pinto), who looks lovely and does little. Well, she’s a muse – all she has to do is look lovely, right? Actually, she also, improbably, leaves a perfectly acceptable and presumably employed fiancé to run away with Roy.
So, Roy’s deluded, about his talent, and about his chances of getting away with the scam; and Dia’s deluded by his charm. Alfie is deluded by the thought that he can maintain his youth by hooking up with Charmaine, and Helena is deluded by a fortune teller about all manner of things. All these delusions are set up to come crashing down.
The least believable storyline is Sally’s. Sally (Naomi Watts), the daughter of Alfie and Helena, and married to Roy, is emerging, perhaps, from an earlier delusion that Roy would ever man up and willingly become a parent with her. But her belief that she might find romance with her handsome new boss Greg (Antonio Banderas) is hardly delusional given the situations we witness; his denial later that he sees her as anything other than a colleague and employee is disingenuous. Her belief that her mother would stump up the cash for her business venture is not fantastical either, since Helena has been subsidising their rent, and they have previously discussed and agreed on a further loan.
I’d be tempted to conclude that Woody Allen is deluding himself that he’s still got it, but Midnight in Paris shows his mojo can still work. But not on this film.
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