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Back to London: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Returning to London: Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

by Binoy Kampmark

We are back in London, a scene which Woody Allen has come to love over the years (witness Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream). His last film Whatever Works, buoyed by the dynamic performance of Larry David as a misanthropic physicist, took him back to his familiar haunt and repeatedly inspirational muse – New York. David’s performance was punchy, cantankerous and sufficiently neurotic to work. In You Will meet a Tall Dark Stranger, London again receives Allen’s attentions, though the love here did not yield the finest offspring.

We find Josh Brolin playing a struggling, voyeuristic one-book author in the form of Roy; his wife Sally (Naomi Watts), ambitiously moving up the art market food chain, and her distraught recently divorced mother Helena (Gemma Jones), who takes refuge in the soothing words of a fortune teller (Pauline Collins). Along the way, we meet a gloomy self-deluding fitness freak of a man in Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) intent on re-inventing himself after divorcing Helena. Naturally, such reinvention involves purchasing the youngest and fastest of goods (embrace the gym, ditch the aged wife, and marry a whippet-like sex bomb with intelligence as extensive as her minute shorts).

There is a persistent flatness in the themes, something which seems to attack the characters like mildew. This may not be surprising given the opening lines of the film, nabbed from Shakespeare’s tormented Macbeth – life being a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But this dilemma of nothingness is by self-definition nonsense, and Shakespeare would have known that better than most. There is always something, even if the muddled characters are struggling to find it. The very nothingness of a condition entails something to ponder. A rejection notice for a book is not an absence of triumph so much as the presence of failure. If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be the most viable option.

The twists are predictable, though occasionally amusing, and the sharp lines that usually bubble remain well hidden in the pot. Many of Allen’s better films have a tendency to race, hitting a particular point where the autopilot of humour and sometimes drama, assumes the controls. The electric language is a charge that moves through at such pace it crackles, something we got glimpses of in his last effort.

Brolin’s figure remains unconvincing as the tormented literary soul who eventually pinches both a novel by a colleague and the fiancée Dia (Freida Pinto). While writing is a torturous process, the torture in the case of Brolin’s character is never developed. The same might be said of Antonio Banderas, who is about as erotically appealing in this effort as a castrated bull. If life is indeed a tale signifying nothing, Allen’s effort might have had a bit more sound and fury in it.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:


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