It’s difficult to define exactly where Mr. Allen has failed here. There is no particular aspect that’s been blundered to the point of single-handedly ruining the picture, yet also no aspect has been such a success as to raise the film beyond the level of mediocrity.
The script is a perfect example of this. Allen provides us with four central characters: an older divorced couple played by Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones, as well as their daughter and her husband, played by Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin.
The film is consumed with the romantic runnings-about of these four, each entertaining flirtations with the likes of Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto and Lucy Punch. In his direction, Allen masterfully conjures the sweet innocence of these liaisons, procuring and sustaining impressive performances from his actors – the film’s strongest point.
As with each of Allen’s pictures, whether it is by the subtlety of the dialogue or the ability he has with irony, one can tell from viewing that the film was written by a smart man.
Despite this, the moments of humour in the film are sadly few and far between. It’s as if the pathos was too strong to bring in the laughs, leaving the lion’s share of the film’s content as a (light-hearted) drama.
This wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that none of his character’s story lines are examined enough to allow the audience to invest in them emotionally. Case in point is the relationship between Watts’ and Brolin’s characters.
This troubled couple – a novelist trying to overcome the stigma of a lone bestseller, and an art critic with ambitions of starting her own gallery – which should be the most relateable in the film, is left frigidly uninvestigated.
Furthermore, these story lines lack introduction or conclusion. The story is helped along by a narrator, who must catch us up on the current situations of the characters at the beginning of the film, such that we can comfortably slide into the action, and who seems to arbitrarily divorce us from the characters at the end, devoid of any resolution or closure.
This can be a useful device if it makes a contribution to the overall theme or meaning of the film, but again, an identifiable theme or meaning is yet another thing we are unable to find.
Allen’s ambition, just within the single film, has got the best of him. In trying to balance his personal brand of comedy with romantic drama, and three or four story lines with one another, he’s turned out to be, in this outing at least, a master of none.