At Cannes: Woody Allen Delivers Comedy, Misanthropy
Screening out of competition, Woody Allen's latest film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger added some welcome levity amid the festival's myriad screenings involving murder, hostage standoffs, self-immolation and suicide.
Like Cassandra's Dream and Match Point, Allen's latest film takes place in London, and follows the marital woes of two couples: frustrated writer Roy (Josh Brolin) and his comely wife Sally (Naomi Watts); and Sally's mother Helena (Gemma Jones) and father Alfie (Anthony Hopkins).
Alfie leaves Helena for Charmaine (Lucy Punch), a cockney-accented call girl, while his daughter Sally eyes her tall dark and handsome boss Greg (Antonio Banderas, with a wicked comb-over). Roy has just finished his second book but has a heaping dose of career envy and angst; to assuage himself he begins eying his neighbor across the courtyard, Dia (the stunning Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire).
The actor who gets the most laughs throughout the film, however, is the one perhaps least expected. Hopkins's turn as a Viagra-popping, sports-car-driving gym rat and bon vivant in the midst of a end-life crisis is especially rewarding.
At a press conference today, a self-deprecating and misanthropic Allen was joined by Watts, Brolin, Jones and Punch. Almost doing a stand-up routine, the legendary director got the press conference off to a rollicking start. When asked about the frequency of miserable characters in his films, Allen said: "Life is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience. The only way you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself." Watts chimed in after Allen's tirade, "I should pay you as my therapist."
At 74, Allen is firmly entrenched in the elder-director realm; he was asked to comment on getting old, and if he had any desire to reach 100 years old -- a milestone surpassed by the festival's oldest senior statesman, 101-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira.
"I don't want to reach a hundred with an aluminum walker and dribbling," Allen said. "If I could do it like [Oliveira], I would love to. But my relationship with death remains the same: I'm strongly against it," he said to press applause and laughter. He added, "I find [getting older] a lousy deal... You don't get smarter, you don't get wiser, you don't get more mellow, you don't get kinder, nothing good happens. Your back hurts more, you get more indigestion... It's a bad business getting old, and I would advise you not to do it.
Age, apparently, motivates his decision to refrain from acting in his films any time soon. "For years I played the romantic lead, but then I couldn't play it anymore, because I got too old," he admitted. "You imagine how frustrating it is when I do these movies with Scarlett Johansson and Naomi Watts, and the other guys get them. And I'm the old guy over there, the director. I don't like that. I like to be the one who sits opposite them in the restaurant and looks them in the eyes -- and lies to them."