You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a film with a lot of characters, a lot of situations, but not a whole lot of drama or things to watch out for. By the midway point, there’s a good chance you’ll know exactly how the rest of the film is going to play out. This makes it far less enjoyable than it otherwise might have been. To call this film simple-minded would be insulting, but to call it entertaining would be a lie.
We open with a woman named Helena (Gemma Jones) going to see a fortune-teller named Cristal (Pauline Collins). Helena has recently divorced her husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins). An annoying narrator informs us of this. They former married couple have a daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), who is married to a writer named Roy (Josh Brolin). Helena supports the couple because Roy is struggling to write his second novel, probably because he continuously stares at the woman across the street (Freida Pinto).
Let’s see, there are a great deal more characters. Alfie ends up marrying a prostitute named Charmine (Lucy Punch). Sally gets a new job working at an art gallery, and has a boss named Greg (Antonio Banderas). The woman across the street, Dia, has a fiancée named Allen (Neil Jackson), a man named Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) gets involved later on as well, although I’ll keep his purpose a secret for now because you might want one surprise, even if it’s meaningless and doesn’t factor in a whole lot.
I think I named all of the characters, not that it really matters. Once the film starts, all of them will rapidly change positions, and yet somehow also feel the same. Things happen, but everything feels constant. It’s like watching someone work out on a treadmill for 100 minutes: Sure, he/she might have burned some calories, but they’re not going to emerge a greatly changed person. And if the individual started out unlikable, that’s not going to change either, as is the case of almost every character in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
I can’t think of a single character who I was rooting for as the film progressed. Maybe Dia, as she didn’t technically do anything wrong, although even she decides to leave her fiancée on what seemed to me like a whim. Maybe it felt that way because no characters actually get the time they need to develop or have their relationships progress, but it didn’t feel like she had a good grasp on why she is acting the way she is. That’s true of a lot of characters, though, as most of them make decisions based on how they feel in the moment. Allusions are made to long-standing tension between some people, like Roy and Sally, but not much is made of it and they act like a “normal” couple for most of the time they share the screen.
This is a problem with a lot of ensemble films, although it is less of an issue in comedies. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not a comedy, or at least, I didn’t see anything funny about it. All of the characters are sad, lonely souls who don’t do anything positive to help themselves, there were few attempted jokes, and it seemed to me to be attempting to be a drama more often than it tried to be a comedy.
But if it’s a drama, then it fails just as frequently. It doesn’t give any of its character enough time to develop, the screenplay doesn’t seem particularly interested in providing us with depth in both the relationships and people, and what depth we do get is more or less the same for every character. They’re all unhappy, they all want to (or at least are willing to) cheat on their significant others, and nothing they do will ever matter because none of them are interested in actually improving their lives, even though there’s nothing preventing them from doing so.
And even when things seem as if they’re going to go somewhere, like how we begin to see tensions elevate leading up to what should be the climax, the film decides to fade to black and roll the credits. Before any of the major stories are wrapped up (save for one of them but it felt like the most minor of the major plots), the film ends. There’s no closure, but this is a film that needed it. If I’m going to dedicate that much time to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, I want to know what happens to these people.
At least the performances are good. I’ve mentioned the cast members, and you’d expect good performances from them. If nothing else, this film has good actors. And yet, a great deal of them disappear for large portions of the film, and you have no idea why. This makes it feel inconsistent and further harms any potential depth and development that is already in need of help.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not a good film. It doesn’t work as a comedy, and it doesn’t work as a drama. It isn’t funny, and it doesn’t make you care about any of the characters, as they’re all dark, ungrateful and unwilling to help each other despite nothing prohibiting them from doing so. It’s a film that has nothing to say about anything important, and won’t entertain either. It has a good cast, but because it’s an ensemble, it doesn’t use them as well as it should have. It simply failed to entertain me, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, even fans of director Wood Allen’s previous works.