Saturday, February 19, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: Grade A


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas; Writer-Director Woody Allen.

An elderly married couple breaks up (Hopkins-Jones) when he realizes that his wife “has let herself get old.” He hits the gym and takes up with a young, beautiful, airhead, gold digger prostitute. Meanwhile their daughter (Watts) breaks up with her husband (Brolin), a failed writer. Each of the four is soon attracted to other potential mates. Everyone is haunted by failed relationships and struggles to start a new life.

It took me a while to get into this movie. It starts out with dreadful acting, a stilted script, noticeably mechanical directing, and a dreadful, intrusive narrator. I thought, "This is aggressively bad!" About halfway through, some real acting begins to show, although the characters never do become well developed. Finally I realized what Allen was trying to do. He did not want us to get involved with these characters. They are symbols, or archetypes for the lives in our culture, not real people we should care about. That’s why the plot line is practically nonexistent, the romantic relationships stereotypes, and the acting hollow. None of that matters. He is forcing us beyond the particular characters into universals. We are being shown the archetypes of modern, Western, sophisticated urban life, so that we might reflect on its meaning, or lack of same. Ultimately this is an existential movie that says, your life has no meaning, despite today’s passions and angst that seem so gripping. That is the human condition.

What makes this approach work is the superlative film making, especially the sets and costumes. Every detail, and I mean every one, is absolutely perfect. Colors, camera angles, framing, lighting, movement, rhythm, jewelry, hairstyle, buttons, every tiny detail is done to loving perfection, and the movie is worth seeing just for that exercise of craft. But as a bonus, you get the subtle existential message, and the pleasure of seeing some familiar faces on the big screen. You could watch this movie as a mildly interesting romantic comedy/drama, but you’d be missing the point. It is so much more if you look a little deeper.

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