Our existence is meaningless, resistance is futile and there’s nothing waiting for us on the other side.
Those, ladies and germs, are the harsh home truths Woody Allen wants to give us (again) in his latest London-based dramedy, a typically star-studded affair that finds the glum auteur at his most nihilistic.
Those who’ve loyally followed the Woodster through the latter stages of his diminishing output will find few crumbs of comfort in a pic whose very title nods to the grim reaper.
Nor will they find many jokes, unless you count the sniffy ones aimed at the strumpet (Lucy Punch) Anthony Hopkins’s ageing Alfie leaves his wife for in a doomed attempt to stave off decrepitude.
Sad and suicidal, Helena (Gemma Jones) is bolstered by a clairvoyant (Pauline Collins) who promises her better times ahead. Meanwhile, her daughter (Naomi Watts) and failed novelist son-in-law (Josh Brolin) seek their own quantums of solace – she from her dandy of a boss (Antonio Banderas), he from a guitar-playing muse.
Woody’s works have always been variations on the same recurring themes. For a while there has been little variation, unless you count his evolving roster of players and his financially motivated move to Europe.
Although not without its charms – chief among them a delicious comeuppance for one key character – Stranger feels sadly disposable.
Were it not for a few eye-catching cameos from such homegrown talents as Philip Glenister and Meera Syal, you’d hardly know it was made over here at all.
Every now and then we get a glimmer of the filmmaker Woody once was and could be again. But it’s not enough for us to want him to recover some of his old form – he’s got to want it, too.