Sex and the sin­gle geezer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

AS THE world changes, it con­tin­ues to re­main very much the same. Win­ter leads into spring. New growths dis­turb the earth. The days slowly be­gin to stretch out. Woody Allen re­leases a film about an old man fall­ing in love with a stupid young woman. It has been thus since hu­mans tilled the fields with hewn branches.

There is, of course, some­thing com­fort­ing about the reg­u­lar ar­rival of the lat­est Allen film (when they get a re­lease in these ter­ri­to­ries, that is). The oc­ca­sional catas­tro­phe such as Cas­san­dra’s Dream noted, Woody con­tin­ues to de­liver a mod­estly im­pres­sive hit rate of de­cent gags and knotty emo­tional co­nun­drums.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is, putting it at its kind­est, some­thing of a mixed bag. Of the clut­ter of sto­ries roughly spliced to­gether, one is very amus­ing, two are pass­able and one is bor­der­line of­fen­sive.

Af­ter a wel­come re­turn to New York for last year’s What­ever Works, the di­rec­tor is back in his own weirdly clean, dis­con­cert­ingly un­der-pop­u­lated (ex­cept where celebri­ties are con­cerned) ver­sion of up­per-mid­dle-class Lon­don.

The plots hud­dle around the un­happy life of a pretty cou­ple given in­hu­man flesh by Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin. He is a blocked nov­el­ist. She is fall­ing for the sleek boss (An­to­nio Ban­deras do­ing An­ton­tio Ban­deras) of the gallery at which she has re­cently be­gun work. While fail­ing to write his next mas­ter­work, Josh lusts af­ter a pretty girl (Freida Pinto) who lives on the other side of the court­yard. Mean­while, Naomi’s dad, played by a dis­tracted An­thony Hop­kins, is mak­ing a fool of him­self with, yes, an id­iot (Lucy Punch) young enough to be his grand­daugh­ter. Other sub­plots abound.

One can put up with a few amoral char­ac­ters in a sex com­edy, but the con­sis­tent, un­re­lent­ing wretched­ness of the cir­cling phi­lan­der­ers in Dark Stranger fast be­comes ex­haust­ing. More se­ri­ously, the ut­ter dis­dain showed to­wards Hop­kins’s new part­ner – not only stupid, but also a pros­ti­tute – re­minds us of the un­healthy strand of misog­yny that runs through Allen’s work.

Still, there are rea­sons to stick with Dark Stranger (the ti­tle’s al­lu­sion to death is in­tended). One mi­nor plot finds Brolin rob­bing a man­u­script from a de­ceased au­thor and ped­dling it as his own. His fi­nal darkly hi­lar­i­ous reck­on­ing – a clas­sic Woody Allen mo­ment – de­serves po­si­tion­ing in a much bet­ter film.

Sucker Punch: Lucy turns old crock An­thony Hop­kins into a fool for love Di­rected by Woody Allen. Star­ring An­to­nio Ban­deras, Josh Brolin, An­thony Hop­kins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts, Pauline Collins, Anna Friel

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