You Will See a Slack, Unconsidered Woody Allen Movie

09/22/2010 4:00 AM |

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Directed by Woody Allen

After Whatever Works proved a failed homecoming, Woody has again expatriated to London, the site of his greatest recent success. Match Point marked Allen’s aughties high, a triumph recaptured in neither Scoop nor the underrated Cassandra’s Dream. In Stranger, Allen gropes again for that English magic, once more exploring matters of fortune. There’s even a scene at the opera! Not to mention the soap-opera jealousies on display among the philandering cultured classes. But Allen fails at his art here as spectacularly as his own characters.

Anthony Hopkins, looser than ever, leaves his wife of 40 years and marries a philistine prostitute (Lucy Punch), while a fortuneteller (Pauline Collins) ensorcells his ex (Gemma Jones). Naomi Watts plays their daughter, whose art-world career and marriage to a failed writer (Josh Brolin) are collapsing. The material’s initial levity is soon shouldered aside by the misery of personal and artistic failures, and Stranger builds to a dispiritingly cynical end that suggests we are all the orchestrators of our own miserable fates. Oh, and only idiots are happy.

That a coherent message emerges at all from this haphazard film is nearly miraculous. Allen’s one-a-year schedule has proven debilitating. Though gorgeously honey-lit, Stranger feels shot off a cocktail napkin; the credits roll before the drama even climaxes. Macbeth’s sound-and-fury quote bookends the film, as though Allen’s admitting the movie has no Meaning. Stranger, then, asks not only why we should bother living, but also: why bother making movies? ”It distracts me,” Allen says in publicity materials. But his latest doesn’t even distract. It’s an unconsidered mess.

Opens September 22