09/20/2010 09:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence but, in Woody Allen's world, it's not merely an illusion. Rather, it's the thread that starts to unravel one's current reality.

So it is in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, an occasionally comic drama (and not the laugh-fest being sold in commercials and trailers) about the terrors and pitfalls of dissatisfaction. Every character in this film is unhappy in some way with his or her current situation -- but in seeking what seems to be a better solution, they instead find even more unhappiness.

It starts with Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), an older married couple in London. When Alfie decides he wants to find the zest in the life he has remaining, Helena derides him as too old for such nonsense. So Alfie moves out, joining a gym, going to clubs and, eventually, finding a new young girlfriend.

The unhappy Helena lets a friend talk her into visiting a fortune teller (Pauline Collins), who seems to have only good news for Helena about her future -- but negative forecasts for everyone else in Helena's life.

Some of those have to do with her daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), who is caught in a listless marriage with a failed writer named Roy (Josh Brolin). After one mildly successful book, Roy has had a couple of bombs -- and is now waiting to hear from a publisher about his next manuscript. Roy is as dissatisfied as Sally -- and so both begin to let their eye wander.

Roy doesn't have to look far; he finds himself captivated by a classical guitarist (Freida Pinto), who he listens to and watches from his apartment window. Her window is just across the courtyard, and she is both beautiful and talented. Roy introduces himself and begins to take her out, though he's seen her involved with another man while spying on her.

Sally also finds herself drawn to another man: her boss, an art dealer named Greg (Antonio Banderas), for whom she works as an assistant. She touts him on to an artist friend of hers, Iris (Anna Friel), and spends enough time with him to know that his marriage is about to collapse. There seem to be sparks between them; could he be a viable alternative to Roy?

Alfie, meanwhile, has met Charmaine (Lucy Punch), an escort with whom he falls quickly in love. Playing Henry Higgins to her oversexed Eliza Dolittle, he sweeps her up from her sex-worker life and deposits her in a penthouse decorated all in white, creating what seems like a perfect little love nest.

And Helena takes an entirely new approach to life, following the fortune teller's advice. The fortune teller's predictions lift Helena's mood, despite the fact that this fatuous woman seems to be saying only the kinds of things that anyone would want to hear. That includes musings about Helena's romantic future, which leads her to a séance with a new man, who seems unusually attached to his late wife.

In each case, however, Allen is etching portraits in denial and distraction.