Even the Best Laid Plans... 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger'

Woody Allen's characters struggle alone, searching aimlessly for that saving grace that makes it all worthwhile. Amidst all the despair, a bit of hope glimmers.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch
Studio: Sony
Release Date: 2011-02-15

Woody Allen specializes in crafting neurotic, self-obsessed characters that can’t get far enough out of their own way to find happiness. These individuals are often played by Allen himself alongside a much-younger leading lady. Another option has a different actor playing the Woody type, most notably Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity and John Cusack in Bullets over Broadway. While these roles are often very entertaining, the characters don’t usually end up happy, especially in Allen’s dramatic films.

In his latest picture You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Allen creates a score of neurotic individuals who all could fit the model. There isn’t a singular individual who embodies the writer/director’s on-screen persona, but virtually everyone has obstacles to bypass in order to avoid disaster. This is not the type of movie where the leads will attain a newfound level of contentment and respect. Instead, even the best-laid plans are likely to end up in the trash bin.

Helena Shebritch (Gemma Jones) is one of those people who practices brutal honesty, regardless of the consequences on her family. After her frustrated husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) leaves her, Helena takes solace in the words of a charlatan seer over everyone else. Her daughter Sally Channing (Naomi Watts) is struggling financially and emotionally to keep her marriage with writer Roy (Josh Brolin) afloat. Once a rising author, he toils on his latest opus but keeps getting distracted by the gorgeous Dia (Freida Pinto) in the building across the way.

Nearly all the primary characters are searching for the “tall dark stranger” that’s just out of reach and ignore what they currently have. Sally has a good job in the art world but pines for the affections of her charming boss (Antonio Banderas). She’s also trying to start her own company but can’t even afford the rent in her London flat without help. Another prime example of this trend is Hopkins’ Alfie, who refuses to accept getting old. Exercising with crazed vigor and living in a fancy bachelor pad, he seeks the vitality he once had. An opportunity appears in the prostitute Charmaine (Lucy Punch), but his blind attempts to buy her love are almost certainly headed for disaster. Still, a glimmer of hope for at least two of the characters sparkles in the final moments of the film. A little self-delusion helps with that.

Shooting once again in London, Allen presents the futile actions of these characters with pity, not hatred. It’s clear that he’s very familiar with the Roy character type who is so focused on being a writer that he can’t see the unfortunate truth. Even when Roy finds an unethical outlet that appears destined to succeed, fate plays him a cruel hand once again. These characters are mostly deserving of their fate, but it doesn’t make watching them fall a rewarding experience.

The strongest aspect of this film is the actors, who do their best to deliver believable performances even when the writing falls short. Brolin and Hopkins both make their characters’ moves understandable even if we disagree with the motives. Watts is sharp as always, and even the sometimes static Banderas finds the right note. Jones and Punch give their showy roles their best shots, but their eccentricities become tired as the story moves along.

The extras are virtually nonexistent and don’t really warrant a separate entry marked “Special Features” in the main menu. It includes the theatrical trailer and a brief text description of the soundtrack. That’s it. Allen doesn’t provide commentaries, so that exclusion isn’t a surprise. However, an interview with the actors doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was generally panned by critics as another middling Allen film, but there’s a bit more depth than what appears at first glance. The sad, wanting individuals aren’t willing to work together to find a better place. Instead, they struggle alone, searching aimlessly for that saving grace that makes it all worthwhile. The experience can be frustrating for the audience, but Allen sticks to his flawed characters’ personalities right to the end.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.