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More Husbands and Wives

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Keith Hamshere/Sony Pictures Classics

Once per year, similar to clockwork, Woody Allen puts down the clarinet, gives away the New York Knicks tickets and comes out with a movie that resumes his career long rendering of the intelligentsia’s foibles.

While the New York icon has found renewed inspiration in western Europe, few of his recent movies that have taken place there boast the literate, angst-inflected writing and smart populist considerations of broad philosophical notions that highlight his best Manhattan-set work. Put another way, things have gotten stale.

Although the Woodman is not quite back to his old self in the London-set “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” his latest does represent a step in the right direction after the nadir of “Whatever Works.” With entertainingly busy, interlocking subplots, a characteristically skeptical view of the universe and a wealth of distinguished actors, the film earns its spot in the Allen pantheon.

Life, the narrator reminds us Shakespeare wrote, is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” exemplifies that notion in its depiction of characters selfishly guided by their guttural instincts rather than their good sense, driven toward self-destructiveness because that’s what we humans do.

These individuals include struggling author Roy (Josh Brolin), his unhappy wife Sally (Naomi Watts), her superstitious mother (Gemma Jones) and Sally’s late life-crisis suffering father Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who abandons his Sally’s mom for a prostitute named Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Their stories abound with fortune tellers, stark betrayals and foolish stabs at happiness — the stuff, in other words, of everyday life.

While the movie certainly “signifies nothing,” it offers a healthy dose of truthful interactions, heightened just enough to viscerally evoke their comic and tragic connotations. It’s the closest Mr. Allen has recently come to the insightful depictions of the human condition that once were his forte.


Opens on Sept. 22 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Jim Clay; costumes by Beatrix Aruna Pasztor; produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Jaume Roures; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Antonio Banderas (Greg), Josh Brolin (Roy), Anthony Hopkins (Alfie), Gemma Jones (Helena), Freida Pinto(Dia), Lucy Punch (Charmaine), Naomi Watts (Sally), Pauline Collins (Cristal) and Zak Orth (narrator).


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