We witnessed something of a Woody Allen renaissance in the mid 00s, with taut, mainstream, arty flicks like Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona winning over critics. While Scoop, Allen's slapdash attempt at British humor, failed to win the acclaim of his other Scarlett Johansson films, audiences gave him a pass. But when his only-good-on-paper collaboration with Larry David (Whatever Works) hit cinemas, the iconic director had veered off track with an effort that, as Dana Stevens put it, turned New York into, "a desiccated and barely recognizable skeleton."
Luckily, Woody Allen's prolific nature gives plenty of opportunities to bounce back, and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger does the trick. Set in London and featuring a line-up of Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts, the film follows a pair of middle-aged couples sorting out their passions, beliefs and--what else?--their anxieties about growing old together or apart. Billed as a thematic follow-up to to Allen's string of European-tinged films, critics debate whether the flick measures up to the best the director has recently offered.
A Kinder, Gentler Allen finds Betsy Sharkey at The Los Angeles Times. "Allen has put his latest morality and mortality tale in the hands of his usual complement of fine actors," but, "where once Allen's players would have drawn blood, sometimes quite literally given the filmmaker's affection for killing off inconvenient characters ('Crimes and Misdemeanors' among them), here they pull their punches. The dialogue drifts into the petulance of bickering children rather than the biting brilliance that marks the best of his work."
- 'Perverse and Fascinating' muses The New Yorker's David Denby. He "hasn’t gathered together so many disgruntled people in years. Much of the writing is good, and the acting is superb, but the constant wrangling wore me out at times. I missed the physical beauty—the amber glow and the sweet sexiness—of 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona.' In this movie, as in 'Match Point' and 'Cassandra’s Dream,' a certain London sourness and irritability takes over."
- More 'Scattershot' Than Most Of His Films ventures A.O. Scott at The New York Times, who wonders if the director gets any pleasure out of making movies anymore. He explains: "the whole message of 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' is that believing in some kind of nonsense is a natural way of coping with the howling void that surrounds us. (That was also the moral of Mr. Allen’s previous movie, 'Whatever Works,' which didn’t.)" And the movie touts this theme to "mixed success," while the audience "struggles through."
- 'Why Not Just Sit Back and Laugh at the Futility of it All?' cynically invites Variety's Justin Chang. "Fittingly, the song chosen to play over the writer-director's trademark white-on-black, Windsor-type opening credits is 'When You Wish Upon a Star.'" And yes,"this being an Allen picture, it's set in a privileged fantasy world where characters pursue artistic-literary aspirations, go to the opera and make casual reference to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle."
- Allen Plays God With His Characters, "they feel more like puppets rather than human beings with natural instincts and lucid senses," writes Kirk Honeycutt at The Hollywood Reporter. "True, the stories here are about people acting irrationally. But you always understood the emotions behind bad behavior in 'Annie Hall,' 'Manhattan' and 'Hannah and Her Sisters.' Here decisions get made off-camera or people act with an abruptness, if not a frivolity, that betrays no thought process at all."