Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver
Written by: Woody Allen
Running Time: 97 mins
Release date: 19th September 2014
There is a certain amount of reassurance when entering a new Woody Allen film. You know it’s going to be one of three kinds of films: modern morality story (like last year’s Blue Jasmine), full-blown romantic comedy (Annie Hall) or light and fluffy whimsy. His latest, Magic In The Moonlight, falls neatly into the latter, and even if it does include all of Allen’s favourite topics, magic, romance, jazz and 1920’s setting, you do get the impression that this would have worked better as a short vignette than a full length feature.
Stanley is a renowned magician who is cynical of spiritualists and is often called upon to prove them as fraudulent. A fellow magician and friend, Howard Burkan, convinces Stanley to go to the South of France to witness a young American girl who he believes is the real thing when it comes to being a clairvoyant, the pretty Sophie. Convinced she is doing it to steal money from the rich and easily fooled, Stanley is surprised to find that Sophie does seem to have mystical powers and it doesn’t stop at being able to talk to the spirits.
Allen’s film ticks all the boxes for an Allen film. Starting off with a 20’s jazz track over his stark yet familiar title sequence, it soon gets into its stride, which is leisurely and full of the usual wit and wisdom of the great director. Yet it’s not up to his usual standard. Not surprising when you consider that he produces a film a year. They are never always going to be as strong as Midnight In Paris, which this is similar in style. Yet it looks beautiful with Allen capturing the splendor and grace of the South of France. Some shots show that he really does love this stunning area and whole film looks like it was shot on aging stock to give it that authentic 20’s feel.
As you would expect, there are lines of pure comic genius. “When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.” He has such a terrific ear for dialogue that you sometimes feel like you are eavesdropping on someone’s conversations. There are moments when his script does seem long-winded and a couple of the meatier speeches do feel slightly out-of-place. It’s also not as funny as some of his other films, yet you feel it’s not about the comedy, more the magic between Stanley and Sophie.
He always scores with his cast and there is no exception. Colin Firth is deliciously egotistical as Stanley, a man who thinks he is above everybody else, particularly those trying to be clairvoyants. He is full of pompousness and arrogance and while it may not seem like the most likeable of characters, he manages to pull it off with flair and class. A very different role from his last screen outing, as Nicole Kidman’s husband in Before I Go To Sleep. Emma Stone is one of the screen’s most watchable actresses and here she is perfect as the wide-eyed Sophie. It’s a perfectly pitched performance and a nice companion to Firth’s mean-spirited Stanley.
The film runs its course to an obvious ending but once you have watched it, it’s becomes almost forgettable. A film that does stretch its storyline to the extreme, it does have enough moments to keep the attention but this isn’t one of Allen’s best. If his next film is a classic, critics are bound to say it’s Allen back on form. Allen never loses form, he just has a rest from being a genius once in a while.