I didn’t write about Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger when I saw it this year, either to register my own responses or to rebut the reading offered by Henry Stewart in his fine, scathing L Mag review. So its appearance at the reserved-for-a-passion-pick 10 spot my year-end Top 10 list may have seemed somewhat out of the blue, especially since consensus on the movie—if “consensus” is “per a smattering of people I follow on Twitter”—is that it’s really terrible.
Which, I mean. I’m so used to the flaws of late-period Woody Allen films—first-draft dialogue, slackly blocked master-take scenes that expose uneven acting, an increasingly daft understanding of popular/lower-class tastes and mores—that they barely even register with me anymore. Once you can take the sometimes embarrassing filmmaking as a given, you have to concentrate on something—you acclimate, and then you start to think about the ideas that’re being expressed, however clumsily. And You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is, if not particularly profound, at least undergirded with a world-sadness felt more genuinely and deeply than is remotely common.
My Top 10 blurb:
#10 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
In contemplating the gap between artistic ambition and ability, the Wood Man stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a generation of filmmakers who’ve got all the time in the world—which is why he’s on this list and Lena Dunham’s not.
The comparison to Tiny Furniture I thought was apt because of the Josh Brolin plotline, a very matter-of-factly dramatized portrait of a writer running up against what he’s capable of doing. This is something Woody’s talked a lot about lately in regard to his own career—but what separates him from filmmakers my age, who’re similarly concerned with their less-than-fully-articulated goals for work, love and life, is that Woody’s insecurities are unleavened by any of the consolations of youth. He’s death-haunted, and so is the rest of the film, which is mostly about the ugly ways in which people try to enlarge their finite allotment of mortal happiness.
Anthony Hopkins works out, tans, and leaves his wife for a younger woman who’ll finally give him a son; his ex-wife discovers spiritualism and its attendant pseudoreligious tonic promises of happiness and continuity of consciousness in the form of ghosts or reincarnations; her daughter, Naomi Watts, flirts, too late, with her boss while her husband Brolin, like Hopkins and so many Woody Allen characters before him, decides that seducing a younger woman is the next best thing to being a young man again. (The younger women are also given a chance to act out the possible, conflicted appeal such a relationship might have for them—less Lucy Punch’s guilty gold-digger than Freida Pinto as Brolin’s confused, cowed, impressed and flattered muse.) Our bodies are failing, our talents have limits, our romantic mistakes are irreversible—these are the discussions the characters of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger struggle, vainly, to table. It’s a film about the nonexistence of God and the expiring consolation prizes offered in His stead.