By William Wolf


One of the more enjoyable films at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival was Woody Allen’s dramatically and comically astute “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” Allen, perceptive as usual, focuses on people whose lives become all screwed up, and does so with remarkable insight. Set in London, the film is often very funny, but the comedy never overshadows what is also a serious approach to characters struggling to somehow resolve their day-to-day problems. Allen cleverly blends his whimsical take on his subjects with concern for what happens to them, and given the excellent cast assembled, his latest film is delightfully entertaining.

Actress Gemma Jones is a scene stealer as Helena, whose marriage explodes when her restless husband Alfie, played by Anthony Hopkins, dumps her after their many years together for a young hooker for whom he falls after meeting her on a professional date. Lucy Punch plays the floozy to the hilt as a gold digger who has Alfie wrapped around her finger, or wherever. He is blindly besotted at this brush with rejuvenation, although he has to wait for the Viagra to kick in during one droll scene, in which he uses the excuse that he wants time to survey her gorgeous body.

The break-up and new relationship exasperate Sally, the daughter of Helena and Alfie, especially when Helena takes to visiting a psychic and making every move absurdly dependent on the advice she gets. The wonderful actress Naomi Watts is excellent in the Sally role, as she grows increasingly fed up with her mother, upon whom she is depending for a loan that will enable her to go into her own art gallery business with a partner. Will the psychic gum up the works?

Sally’s husband Roy, given yet another fine performance by Josh Brolin, is even angrier at his mother-in-law, and he has no compunction about telling her off. He also strays, falling for the beautiful Freida Pinto as a guitar-playing neighbor whom he takes to watching through her window across the way.

Sally develops, much to her subsequent chagrin and disillusionment, a crush on the gallery owner for whom she works. Enter Antonio Banderas as the seductive charmer. How Allen juggles all of these characters and their lives provides the film with both its humor and substance. The performance of Gemma Jones as Helena is a special joy to behold, and as quirky as the character is, she is the most likely to succeed in surmounting her problems to move on to a better, happier life.

As usual, Allen is likely to have his share of skeptics who don’t appreciate him, but in truth, he continues to be one of America’s prime filmmakers whose body of work is monumental. With his latest, he continues to add to his distinctive record. A Sony Pictures Classics release.


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