The Woodman plays with fate and destiny like never before.

The film which helped redefine the image of the superhero comedy unleashes its sequel in the in the form of this week’s Deadpool 2. Ryan Reynolds is back as the title character with an endless series of quips in a film already garnering loads of fanboy approval.

Joining Reynolds this time out is Josh Brolin, still reveling in his monstrous turn as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Between that film, this one, and the upcoming Sicario 2, Brolin’s talents as a versatile and dynamic screen presence have never been on better display. It may be more clear once the summer ends that Brolin is an actor capable of holding his own in any filmmaker’s creation, as he did in the 2010 Woody Allen comedy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

The final installment of Woody Allen’s quartet of London-set films, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger looks at Sally (Naomi Watts), an assistant art dealer in a prominent gallery owned by the handsome Greg (Antonio Banderas), whom she has a crush on. Yet Sally has problems in her life in the form of husband Roy (Brolin), a former doctor whose dreams of becoming a novelist have led to one dead end job after another. When he discovers the perfect muse in his cellist neighbor Dia (Freida Pinto), Roy feels enlivened. Meanwhile, Roy’s father-in-law Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) seems hell bent on getting a second chance at life when he divorces Sally’s mother Helena (Gemma Jones) and marries dimwitted prostitute Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Searching for answers to where her life is going, Helena finds hope after visiting a psychic (Pauline Collins), who gives advice which will effectively play a role in all of the characters’ lives.

While fate and destiny have been elements which Allen has oftentimes clung to when telling his stories, very rarely has the filmmaker used them as strongly as he does throughout You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Seeing the majority of the characters shun the influence of such otherworldly forces, even as their effects play out on them, is surprising given Allen’s notorious skepticism. Yet there’s no question how much fate and destiny charts the course of Alfie, Roy, and Sally’s lives, all of whom are figures deeply imbued with trademark Allen cynicism. Each of the three are desperate to change what isn’t working in their lives by embarking on a new romantic adventure. The determination among the three becomes so incredibly strong that it eventually desperation takes over as each person tries to forcibly steer their own fates. Alfie’s marriage to Charmaine provides him the youthful elixir he’s searching for, but plagues him with doubts about her fidelity and his vitality, while Sally’s attraction to Greg is hampered by the fact that he sees her as nothing more than just someone to bounce his own thoughts and ideas off of. Only Roy and Dia’s courtship is played on a somewhat equal level; at least as equal as possible, since the former has mythologized the latter to death. Allen goes so far as to paint the universe in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger as a decidedly vengeful entity by showing how far it can punish those who go against it. By the film’s end, Sally gets caught up in a financial trap, Alfie finds himself settling into a life of major disillusion and Roy, the most severe of the three, is left waiting for the severity of his actions to come to light and find him.

Only Helena, whose initial visit to a psychic proves enlightening, emerges as the only character to escape destiny’s wrath, mainly because she opens herself up to it. Watching her journey is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we see a woman becoming more and more dependent on psychic predictions rather than being conventionally active in her own life. At the same time, the way she freely embraces the life changes which happen naturally, simply because she chooses to believe they can, is beautiful. The biggest change in Helena’s life is her newfound courtship with a used bookstore owner named Jonathan (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), a widower who, like Helena, also has an inclination to believe in the power of predicting the future. One can make the case that such an interest is a crutch; yet seeing Helena flourish as she develops a renewed interest in life makes it seem worth it. It’s here where the question of what exactly Allen is saying comes up. Is Allen laughing at the fools who try and control fate and destiny, showing how the harder one tries to control the universe, the bigger they’ll fail? Could he be making fun of Helena for her fierce loyalty to her tarot card-ready psychic whom she believes holds all the answers? Does Allen think that the only way a person can be happy is to embrace the fantasy side of life? Perhaps what the Woodman is saying is that everyone needs something to cling to and believe in, as long as it gives meaning and inspiration to their existence.

The level of how well the collection of actors function throughout You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger purely depends on whether or not their character is central or peripheral. In the former, Watts, Brolin, and Hopkins all find ways to bring out the sadness and hunger within their characters while finding the specific rhythm a film like Allen’s requires. In the latter, Banderas, Pinto, and Ashton-Griffiths manage to come off as the appropriate figures of intrigue for their respective counterparts, but fail to develop any real voices for the people they’re playing. Straddling the middle is Punch, who provides such a vivaciousness in every one of her scenes, doing what she can to make Charmaine more character than caricature. Yet the star among the cast remains Jones, who oozes loveliness and longing as Helena. It would have been easy to see Helena as a flighty woman instantly to be dismissed; yet Jones plays her with the utmost sincerity, believing in her just as much as Allen does.

Although the film received an enthusiastic response following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010 (with rumors of an Oscar campaign for Jones already in the works), further critical acclaim was somewhat low when You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was released that October. The film managed make back its reasonable budget, yet it remained clear that Allen’s effort was not the hit some were hoping for. It wouldn’t be until the following year’s Midnight in Paris when the Woodman’s reputation as a filmmaker was given a full-blown resurgence.

As the final film Allen set in London, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger caps off an interesting assortment concerning Allen’s perception of British culture. While 2005’s Match Point was something of a revolt against traditional values and the inability to escape them, 2006’s Scoop was squarely a form of good-natured ribbing to how inept Americans oftentimes function within British culture. With 2007’s Cassandra’s Dream, Allen showcased the universal quality of loyalty to family mixed with a seedy underworld. However, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger may be Allen’s most telling comment on British culture due to the heavy amounts of cynicism the majority of his characters embody which in many ways has come to define the country. Still, the director also makes something of a statement in the way he essentially refutes the culture’s traditional sense of doubt by taking a brand of unwavering optimism and giving it a decidedly British accent.

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