Woody Allen returns to Cannes, as per usual out of competition, to present You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. In the words of its narrator, quoting Shakespeare, it's a 'tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' And that's exactly right, for it's about characters in crises of their own making, whose journeys tend to lead nowhere.
After the disappointing Whatever Works, Allen is on steadier ground here, returning to London for a third time and being a little less unfamiliar in his tone. The humour here is at times fantastical, but never distractingly so, and its characters may be a bit loopy, but they're far from outrageous, and Allen does again manage to observe some facet of life in the story's telling.
Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) has left Helena (Gemma Jones) to find his youth, and starts driving expensive cars and visiting tanning salons. He meets a prostitute named Charmaine (Lucy Punch) and makes the rather unfortunate mistake of falling in love with her, making her his wife and vowing to buy her anything she desires. Of course it turns out she desires quite a bit.
Meanwhile his ex-wife Helena is obsessed with the various predictions of her fortune teller, who is apparently always right and suggests there's a tall dark stranger in her future. Her fervent belief in her swami's power of perception causes problems with daughter Sally and particularly with Sally's husband Roy, a wannabe author struggling through difficult-second-project syndrome, who is tired of hearing his mother-in-law's frequent mentions of his artistic inadequacy.
Sally, for her part, has fallen for her boss, suave gallery owner Greg (Antonio Banderas), while Roy has found himself taken with a mysterious Indian girl who lives across the street (Freida Pinto) on whom he's been spying.
The stories weave in and out, and there's plenty of humor to take from the characters' various foibles. As we can generally expect from Allen, they're impeccably written and they're brilliantly performed by the ensemble. Lucy Punch is a particular standout as Charmaine, cutting an awful figure as Alfie's money-grabbing new wife.
But like much of his recent work, there's a certain something about the characters that is tough to connect with. It's as though Allen has lost the common touch that made his career, for these are people in far too solid a position in life to really have to worry about what they worry about.
His work has always felt a little like on-screen self-therapy, and that's especially true here. Themes of cross-generational relationships are present and accounted for, and his characters' neuroses are once again not dissimilar from those on display in previous movies.
It's without fail the perennial question of every calendar year. Is the new Woody Allen better than/worse than the last? His batting average has been so spotty that while Allen puts out a new movie every year like clockwork it's often been wise to avoid certain films of his altogether and wait for the next one to get good notices.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not amongst Allen's weakest work, but it's still far from his strongest. For its light tone and often hilarious humor, the film is sure to entertain, but it won't be remembered as vintage Woody Allen.