Sep 23, 2010

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

I haven't watched a Woody Allen film since, I believe, Mighty Aphrodite. Or, rather, I have seen some here and there, mostly buoyed by the usually disappointing hype, and it has been the law of diminishing returns since 1989. Except for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which was graced with charming and resourceful actors, many of his movies just suck and have been sucking for a long time.
I used to be a huge fan when I was a teenager and a young adult. He was a genius. But it's been ages since one can go to one of his movies and not cringe. The humor is not funny and I find his portayals of female characters deeply offensive. They are always either ditzes, or shrews or idiot blonde floozies. And this latest movie is no exception. However, this time, Allen is so sour on everybody, he makes the men terrible as well.
Simply put, there is not one sympathetic character in the film. They all have the potential to be sympathetic, but they are so one-dimensional and their flaws are so petty and overwhelming, that you end not caring for anyone, in a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin (woefully miscast) and Antonio Banderas. They all seem to be at a loss of who their characters are. They end up playing the one note they have been given. It's a shameful waste of talent.
Brolin plays an insecure writer who can't pay the bills and is married to Watts who plays a highly unlikeable woman who has a crush on her boss, Antonio Banderas, who has no character whatsoever, except for his customary charm, which always acquits him, even when sporting ridiculous haircuts (I particularly love him as Puss in the Shrek movies. He is wonderful).
Hopkins plays Watts' dad, who, obsessed with youth, divorces his wife, written as a pathetic idiot and played by Gemma Jones, and falls in love improbably with a very vulgar hooker, played with as much dignity as she can muster by Lucy Punch.
A hooker? Really? Isn't this getting really, really old?
It is hard to make Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin look bad in a film, but Allen achieves it with flying colors. He has nothing but contempt for most of his characters.
Then there's the unnecessary voiceover narration, that adds nothing of value. Without it, Allen would have to give his characters more meat and his structure more heft, but as in many of his late period movies, the script feels flimsy, rushed, unpolished.
There are some moments of horrible irony (territory that he has explored before in movies like Match Point, which I hated, or Crimes and Misdemeanors). But the whole thing feels both flimsy and forced. There is one nasty scene between Naomi Watts and her mother, that I think confirms my theory that Woody Allen is deeply condescending and hostile to women, even as he protests loving them.
As A.O Scott points out in his too kind review, only in a Woody Allen film can an unsavory older creep (Brolin, looking the worst he's ever looked) make the most vulgar overtures to a young beautiful woman (lovely Frieda Pinto) and she just smiles and next thing you know, she is introducing him to her parents.
Icky, creepy and utterly out of touch.
Good actors keep wanting to act in his movies, impelled, probably by Allen's status as a great American filmmaker. Most of the time they are stuck in thankless, unsubstantial roles. If they are lucky (and amazingly plucky) like Penélope Cruz, they can go home with an Oscar. But most of the time, I think they are stuck in the worst possible light, playing half-baked stereotypes in the dark.

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