It was bound to happen. But Allen being taken to task for working up sub-par features was a certainty by the mid seventies. Anyone creating such a large body of work – and mostly consistent during the first few decades – should be prepared for some verbal thrashings. But considering the writer and director’s released almost a film every year since the beginning of his career, the griping should be kept to a minimum.
Allen’s last effort, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, suffers more from over-extension than from any shortcomings in the director’s approach. Granted, some of the performances were short of spellbinding, but that might stem from the film’s lack of focus.
Allen’s best works have pretty concise centers – Sleeper for instance follows a guy on a weird journey through time and rebellion. Tall Dark Stranger by contrast includes so many characters that it’d be difficult to name the artist the Naomi Watts character introduces to her gallery owning boss. It’d even be a stretch to recall what she looks like.
Spinning out into all those broad characters is compounded by the fact that with such a sprawling work, no one’s story is going to be detailed all that well. And if there’s one thing Allen’s brilliant at doing, it’s explaining the minutiae of neurosis while making it all funny. Surely, there are some sweet and amusing moments – rare, though, they are. But a few plot lines wind up getting a bit too much screen time, while other deserving stories are left rather vague.
Exploring the art world is a task Allen’s been at for the better part of four decades – usually from afar. Here, though, positioning the Watts character as a would-be gallery owner begs for explanation. Why can’t viewers watch her and her husband, portrayed by a pretty boring Josh Brolin, navigate stuffy galleries and catch glimpses of haughty rich folks? That’d be entertaining.
But Allen aimed at contrasting a variety of different romantic relationships – Watts’ character’s parents, Watts and Brolin, Brolin and Frieda Pinto, Anthony Hopkins and a cheap hooker. It goes on.
And while there are a bevy of interesting similarities, viewers just aren’t given enough to find it all worth thinking about too much. If Allen hasn’t, we probably shouldn’t either.