What do you have when a struggling writer, a beautiful gallery assistant, a high-class hooker, a wealthy man in overdue mid-life crisis and a phony psychic are portrayed by a set of A-list actors flitting about in artsy, appealingly sunny, mostly upper-crust environs? Still not sure? Did I mention that a few of them are involved in affairs with each other, and that life is meaningless? There, now you've got it—it's the latest of Woody Allen's Light, Somewhat Entertaining, Late-Period Comedies!
Like Melinda and Melinda and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is another feather-light foray into the world of the charming bourgeoisie. The most fully realized of its characters is novelist Ray, played by Josh Brolin, who captures the vulnerability beneath macho swagger. Ray is falling in love with his neighbor Dia (Freida Pinto) but is married to Sally (Naomi Watts), who's taken a fancy to her boss (Antonio Banderas), who's more interested in Sally's friend ... well, you get the idea.
This is all familiar, but like those white-on-black credits that open every Allen film, that's precisely what fans like. Detractors are prone to dismissing Allen's body of work as a series of overly similar films, but that's simply not true. For every trifle like Whatever Works, there is a stern masterwork like Match Point. For every bleak, no-flinch look at our darker side like Cassandra's Dream, there is a laugh-out-loud oddity like Scoop.
The other thing that's misleading about dismissing Allen's films for being too much alike is that they are completely unlike anything else. At a rapid pace, Allen cranks out movie after movie with varying degrees of success, but they could never be mistaken for anything but Woody Allen movies. Who else is making breezy, mainstream comedies (you can almost think of them as serial installments), frequently infused with the theme that God doesn't exist?
There are plenty of specific things to appreciate about Stranger: a case of mistaken identity explained hilariously in a pub, Anthony Hopkins' tender portrayal of an accomplished elderly man still confused by his own life, Allen's effortlessly dense compositions captured by master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. These are modest artistic accomplishments, but they are not made redundant by the fact that Allen achieves them so often. Rather, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is remarkable because it's recognizable. Yes, it is yet another Woody Allen movie. And that's precisely the reason to celebrate it.