Woody Allen’s latest benefits from terrific cast

Left to Right: Antonio Banderas as Greg, Naomi Watts as Sally and Anna Friel as Iris star in Woody Allen’s new movie. Photo by Keith Hamshere, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

by Ellen Futterman, Editor

At the rate of about one a year for the past five decades, Woody Allen is such a prolific filmmaker that critiquing his latest is practically an annual rite among film buffs, regardless of whether they are fan or foe. Not funny enough, self-conscious and neurotic, too heavy-handed – the list goes on and on.

In “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” Allen beats us to the punch by opening with a quote from Macbeth: “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” That pretty much sums up this amusing, albeit meandering, dark farce inhabited by unhappy characters who argue a lot and make regretful, sometimes immoral choices. In other words, standard Allen fare.

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Set in modern day London, the story focuses on two couples, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) who just divorced after 40 years, and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and her novelist husband Roy (Josh Brolin) whose marriage is crumbling.

Not wanting to confront his own mortality, Alfie takes up with the much younger, bimboesque Charmaine (Lucy Punch), an “actress” who makes her living doing escort jobs. A distraught Helena seeks a different course, consulting a psychic aptly and obviously named Cristal (Pauline Collins) in the hopes of finding happiness and future love. Meanwhile, Sally and Roy each try to find solace in their respective crushes – she in her art gallery boss (an understated Antonio Banderas, who could blame her?) and he in a pretty neighbor (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”) who is engaged to another man.

The ensemble cast is uniformly terrific, compensating with fine acting in situations where the relationships are less than fleshed out; in this one, Allen seems determined to peer into more psyches, but less intensely than usual.

While some might find the ending abrupt and unsatisfying, it certainly is in keeping with the overarching theme – whether you rely on psychics, karma, serendipity or intention, the result of humans bouncing against each other is fairly unpredictable.