Film: ‘You will meet a tall dark stranger’ ; Cast: Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Antonio Bendaras, Frieda Pinto, Anupam Kher; Director: Woody Allen; Rating: ***1/2
Woody Allen is the patron saint of small slice-of-life movies. Once, they seemed like slices from his own life, hilariously fictionalised. Recently though, Allen seems to have become generous, including others in them.
‘You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger’ maps the story of four characters of a family – Sally (Naomi Watts), her father Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), mother Helena (Gemma Jones) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin) – as they go hurtling through life with their desires and failures, loves and longings.
Alfie has left his wife of 40 years for a final shot at youth while his wife tries the illusion of a fortune teller.
Roy substitutes his failure as a writer trying to build a relationship with a younger, exotic woman Dia (Frieda Pinto), while Sally does not know what to make out of her crush on her boss.
All the four characters, and the people they interact in the film, are after the illusion of that perfect relationship – epitomised by the Mills and Boons phrase ‘Tall Dark Stranger’.
Do they achieve their illusion? Well, like Jacques Lacan once said, ‘It is the aspiration of something that makes it so attractive. It does not matter whether in the end you do get it’.
Woody Allen paints a very believable, modern little tale of many relationships with the same goal. There are many shots and moments in the film that make you realise why Allen retains his mastery of the medium. His small, quirky moments and dialogues – realistic, yet funny – set the pace for this mild film that never gets too serious, despite handling the greatest pains of urban humanity – love and relationship.
Particularly gripping is a scene around the middle of the film that also proves to be the turning point for the characters. Roy has just learnt that his novel has been rejected, Sally’s feelings for her boss have not been reciprocated, and her mother irritates both with her illusion. It is a long shot forming kind or Menage a trios before the camera with the camera moving from one room to another. The handling of the tension in the scene is impeccable.
The film begins with a quote from Shakespeare about life being all sound and fury, signifying nothing in the end. If you have to look at that from the film’s perspective, you’ll find it in the hullaballoo about Frieda Pinto. She has a bit role, that neither leaves room for too much acting, nor mention. If it were another actor, one wouldn’t even have mentioned it.
Yet, perhaps these two minute roles are the greatest challenge for an actor, for them to shine and thrill their audience. Given that Frieda is no great actor, no expectation is really belied as has been made out of her acting.
The ending of the film, perhaps reflects on Woody’s own state of being. He rejects the emphasis on reality of other characters, but gives a happy ending to the illusion of Helena.
Perhaps his message is not just – sometimes illusion works better than medicine – but also that perhaps our illusion and its sustenance is the only reality. He means it for old age, but maybe it’s true for everyone. After all, what’s the real significance of life indeed.