Woody Allen revisits questions of ethics and morals as lived in the real world in YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER. His characters bounce and bobble their way through a world without answers, in which they attempt to seize happiness from the jaws of despair with varying degrees of success. The central question is whether it is better to be happy with an illusion than to live with honesty. Allen answers it with the peculiar twists and turns that come with poetic justice and the general silliness of the human condition.
Honesty is what drove Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) to walk out on his wife of 40 years, Helena (Gemma Jones). She had accepted growing old as part of life, embellishing it with girlish ruffles and prissy lace gloves. He didnt. Clinging to workouts, Viagra, and a fine set of genes that he is convinced will make his golden years a repeat of his life before he married. She attempted suicide. He bought a fast car. Caught in the middle was and is their neurotic daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), a baby-fevered gallery assistant with dreams of motherhood and of one day owning her own gallery. Her marriage to husband Roy (Josh Brolin), a medical school graduate with no intentions of practicing medicine, is unraveling without either of them quite noticing the process. A man stymied and frankly confused at his lack of success as an writer, he is a one-book wonder of an author pining for the woman in red (Frieda Pinto), into whose window across the courtyard he gazes when he should be writing. Flirtation follows with a distinct lack of guilt one the part of either party. Meanwhile, Sally ponders her attraction to her dashing boss, Greg (Antonio Bandaras) and the possibilities for her future with him because of his troubled marriage. She and Roy both ponder her fathers new girlfriend, Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the blowsy, barely clad bubble-head one-third Alfies age and possessed of a magnificent physique and a wondrous ability to say exactly the wrong thing.
Each, with the exception of Charmaine, is a fine example of the trademark Allen introspection, fretting over a need for fulfillment that should be within their grasp, yet never quite clued in about why it remains just out of reach. It is all played out with a finely honed sense of the absurd, and an equally wistful sense of if only Id known then what I know now irony. Helena, though, believes that she has found a way around that with Crytstal (Pauline Collins), a downscale psychic who tells her exactly what she wants to hear, and pours exactly the tipple she wants to imbibe. Whether Crystals powers are psychic, intuitive, or self-fulfilling, Helena believes, her family humors, and the tall dark stranger of the title is less important than the need to believe that everything will turn out well. Or at least well enough to not make another suicide attempt.
Appropriately enough, honesty is the lynchpin on which everyones story hangs. Moral absolutes and moral relativity toy with and tease at one another leading to a resolution that is a necessary as it is surprising. The brilliant simplicity of the story, told in straightforward fashion with overtones of compassion, is a wellspring of complexity. With the exception of Charmaine, a simple soul without a capacity for self-reflection, but a great one for guile, each character is a slave to knowing right from wrong, but not necessarily being willing, or even capable, of acting on that knowledge. Unexpected parallels abound, piquant moments of revelation flutter by, and though the narrator of the piece insists that it is only a rehashing of Shakespeares quote about sound and fury signifying nothing, it is anything but.