Oh, Woody Allen Did Make a Decent Woody Allen Movie
As a lifelong Woody Allen fanatic who held on through the nineties and into the aughts (which is about 10 years longer than many other lifelong Woody Allen fanatics), I knew something had short circuited with 2004's "Melinda and Melinda," the first Woody film I hated and wasn't able to finish.
Woody rallied in a major way with 2005's "Match Point," and while I enjoyed "Scoop" (2006) and "Cassandra's Dream" (2007), you could tell the fire was down to embers. Then came "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008), "Whatever Works" (2009), and "Midnight In Paris" (2011) -- all three of which I thought were dreadful. How Allen won the screenplay Oscar for the trite, shallow, unimaginative, predictable "Midnight" is beyond me.
So discouraged was I by the Woodman's output that I didn't even seek out the one squeezed in-between, 2010's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." But because my local Blockbuster is shuttering tomorrow, I was able to pick it up for $2 -- so why not, right?
Well, I am happy to report that "Stranger" is easily the best Woody Allen movie Woody Allen has made since "Match Point."
The film stars Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, and Antonio Banderas. All play typical Woody Allen characters living in picturesque London and making a living in that typical Woody Allen kind of way. Naturally, the characters are all connected through work, family, and friendship; but what really connects them is a thematic thread that explores what happens to those who have everything and still aren't satisfied.
For a writer/director who usually dwells on what he sees as a lack of cosmic justice in our universe, this is a surprising turn. Because of this, "Stranger" has a knock-out of a third act that gives Watts, Brolin, and Hopkins closing scenes you won't soon forget (especially Hopkins).
"Stranger" isn't perfect. Allen doesn't seem to think his theme will be enough and stupidly added a silly subplot about a fortune teller that pointlessly threads through everything. The voice-over is also unnecessary, but might have worked better had Woody done it himself, as he did to great effect in "Radio Days." But these are minor complaints about one terrific film.
Guess I need to see "To Rome with Love" now.
The universe just seems right when you're able to once again anticipate the next Woody Allen movie.