I watched You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger this weekend, with a good friend who is a devoted fan (no matter what). Of course we’d have loved to seen a wonderful movie. Match Point was a great surprise that kept me talking for weeks. Some part of me is even fine with seeing a terrible movie, as long as it’s self-consciously bad, like Scoop. No part of me wants to see a leaden mess chock full of exposition and loathsome characters, which is Stranger in a nut shell.
Let’s start with the premise: we all want what we can’t have. Sure, why not? That’s universal enough.
If you think any of these characters get deeper than the sketches outlined in the trailer, you would be very, very wrong! Let’s talk about Roy, the washed-up writer! Welp, if anybody out there was clamoring to see Josh Brolin furrowing his brow and mumbling with his shirt off, this is the movie for you! Wait, nobody wants that? Okay, let’s move on. Roy is sad because his first book did well and his other one’s didn’t. You know this because he says it over and over—after the narrator helpfully says it a few times. There’s a lot of exposition in this movie. After all, why show when you can tell?
What about the beautiful creature across the way who dazzles Roy, played by Frieda Pinto? Well, she’s certainly beautiful. She has a guitar, and is studying music, so we know she’s deep. And she’s exotic, because she’s Indian! So: STEREOTYPE ACHIEVED. She’s at least slightly more well drawn than Antonio Banderas’ wealthy but tortured art dealer. That’s his character, y’all! Wealthy but tortured. We know he is wealthy and tortured because the narrator tells us.
This is the type of movie where we are supposed to believe that (OMG SPOILER) the protagonist doesn’t know that his best friend isn’t dead, but in a coma, and that his other best friend isn’t in a coma, but dead! And if you think that makes sense—as a plot point or as anything resembling entertainment—boy, do I have some sophomore year Creative Writing plots to sell you.
The exposition and stock characters aside, the movie is lazy, filled with lazy performances. It’s also riddled with what can only be product placements. Brolin’s (supposedly broke) Roy is always chugging Corona and Grolsch. Perhaps in the UK Grolsch is cheap, but it felt weird. Banderas’ Audi TT and a few other product drops also seemed out of place.
(Also, beer nerdery: Roy tries to screw off the top of a Corona in one scene, then reaches for a bottle-opener. For a guy who only drinks stuff with poptops or flip-tops, it seemed a slip).
I know—hate on a movie because of a clunky scene with angry, later-shirtless Brolin just because of the way he handles his beer? But it’s all those tiny slips that made me crabby. I was one of only about 400,000 that saw this clunker, so let me have my moment.
As Walter Biggins has pointed out in his excellent Letters to Mr. Konigsberg zine (available here), I’m beginning to worry that the Woody Allen I know and love has been watered down so much over the years that the glories of yesteryear—Annie Hall, Manhattan—are diminished as a result. It’s sort of like Patton Oswalt’s George Lucas Time Machine—when you want to stop an artist (that you used to like!) from making art, it’s bad.
After You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, I am officially off new Woody Allen. I’ll revisit the glory days, but the new ones will stay unwatched and unloved, as they deserve.