The greatest shame about Woody Allen’s recent dip in form, perhaps
now better described as a full blown plunge, is the manner in which it
has tainted his achievements. The result of recurring rashes of
revisionism which erupt with each new release, some critics simply
delight nowadays in debunking the “myth” of his genius, as if classic
films stretching back from Take The Money & Run (1969) to Bullets
Over Broadway (1994) were mere flukes.
Not that the veteran director has helped contradict these assertions
much. A handful of his recent films failed to secure distribution, Scoop
and The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion just two among a growing number of
titles left to dwell in the commercial hell of the straight-to-DVD
market. In some cases it has been justified (Cassandra’s Dream surely
marked Allen’s most disastrous exercise), in others the reflection of
his waning popularity.
However, following the success of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen has
enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, at least securing cinema distribution
for his subsequent films. Into this fray wades the arbitrarily titled
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, like a vulnerable child in a
playground full of bullies, all of whom are ready to beat it up and tear
it apart. As it happens, it survives fairly well but not without broken
bones and a bloody nose.
The meandering narrative principally concerns Roy (James Brolin) and Sally’s (Naomi Watts
sporting an uneven British accent) troubled marriage, though it
splinters into a parallel storyline about her parents (Anthony Hopkins
& Gemma Jones) and a fairly ludicrous sub-plot where Roy steals a
friend’s novel who he falsely assumes to be dead.
Struggling to live up to the hype of his first novel and unable to
take his eyes of a mysterious female guitarist living in a building
opposite, Roy’s dual obsession strains his relationship with Sally who
is similarly distracted by falling in love with her art gallery boss.
Also having a hard time with a spouse is Viagra chomping Sir Anthony
Hopkins who, growing up disgracefully, has a mid-life crisis, leaves his
wife and shacks up with an escort who proceeds to cheat on him and
spend his savings with total abandon. Meanwhile, his wife, her head full
of psychic mumbo-jumbo, embarks on a spiritual mission to find
inner-peace and happiness whilst her loved ones blindly seek the same
goals in chaotic fashion.
As in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen favours an omnipresent narrator
to fill in any structural gaps, developing character by telling the
audience what they are thinking or unnecessarily explaining a specific
action. It’s unclear why the director cannot trust his actors to convey
these things in their performances, unless the true motivation is a lack
of faith in his own writing to carry it across. Whatever the reason, it
is an irksome device in a film that ultimately fails to generate
interest in any of its characters and features some cringe worthy
moments: Allen’s depiction of nightclub and pub life could only have
come from a mind totally removed from the realities of contemporary
An air of artificiality permeates everything about YWMATDS, to
increasingly irritating effect. If it’s not Watts’s bizarre accent,
Roy’s bungling book robbery or Lucy Punch’s stereotyped English floozy,
it’s characters’ motivations that ring hollow, their actions only
serving to facilitate narrative trajectories. How Roy seduces Freida
Pinto with “[Don’t] start pulling down the blinds when you undress” will
forever remain a mystery.
It’s been an unglamorous fall from grace for a man who had enjoyed
God-like status, especially in the period Annie Hall won an Academy
Award for Best Picture in 1977. In the classic Allen period from 1969 to
1994, he wrote, starred and directed some thirty-odd films, of which
the majority were at least good if not outstanding. This record alone
should secure his reputation as one of America’s most important screen
personalities, up there with the likes of fellow auteurs Ray, Hawks and
Welles. If only Allen could return to the quality of those days, or
would at least prefer to preserve his own reputation.