Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Every single Woody Allen movie starts the exact same way.  Classical/jazz/muzak plays over the speakers.  Jump credits appear, always in the same font.  The cast is listed alphabetically.  Fade in on opening shot.  And, for better or worse, it is because of this routine that we find a certain comfort when sitting down to watch moving images of Woody’s World. 

Allen is one of the oddest filmmakers around.  In each of his many films (he’s made one a year since the 70s) he mixes together a great cast, witty screenplay and a fresh narrative.  When he succeeds (most recently with the fantastic Match Point) he totally nails it.  Why is it, then, that so many of his films falter?

With films like Tall Dark Stranger, he seems to be attempting to replicate his great streak from the late 80s-early 90s (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives).  But he needs to realize that his contemporary comedies aren’t working (really, did you see Scoop or Whatever Works?)

Tall Dark Stranger, like all of Allen’s films, centers around an interconnected group of people who all have it bad despite their evident wealth.  There’s the failing novelist (a shlabby Josh Brolin), his desperate-to-escape wife (Naomi Watts), and her overbearing mother (Gemma Jones) whose rich husband (Anthony Hopkins) has just dumped her for a whore (yes, literally).

They all sit around and bitch and moan and complain about how unfair life is, which, if done right, can be Woody Allen bliss.  But here, everyone just looks bored.  Maybe that’s because Allen let’s a God-awful narrator do most of the talking (as he did with Vicky Christina Barcelona).  Maybe it’s because we, like all of the actors, have seen and heard this story a dozen times (by Woody himself).

Tall Dark Stranger tries to redeem itself a few times: namely in a scene in which three characters have it out in a cramped apartment, going from one room to another, screaming and drinking scotch, all completed in one long unbroken shot.  It is masterfully done, a true work of bravado.  Sadly, the rest of the film is not.

Allen’s next movie is yet another romantic comedy, but it stars Rachel McAdams, Adrien Brody and Marion Cotillard.  And, for better or worse, I’ll be right there, watching another Woody Allen movie begin the same way all over again. C

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