Director and Writer: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone
Another year, another Woody Allen film. The quality of his work in the past 20 years or so has grown increasingly hit-and- miss, with every Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine sitting alongside snore-inducing blandness like To Rome with Love or Melinda and Melinda. Magic in the Moonlight isn’t one of Allen’s worst films thankfully, but it is incredibly light and inconsequential.
The story begins in 1920s Europe with Stanley (Firth), a stage magician touring under a Chinese pseudonym and astonishing audiences all over the world. He is a hopelessly cynical man who puts complete faith in science, rationality and Nietzschean atheism. Lured to the Cote D’Azur by a friend who claims to have found a truly brilliant clairvoyant by the name of Sophie (Stone), Stanley is then asked to debunk her. He arrives with all his sarcasm fully in tow but is befuddled when he discovers he cannot find any fakery whatsoever in her act. The two begin to develop a relationship and Stanley finally begins to crawl out of his cynical, rationalist shell, with other shenanigans occurring along the way.
The trouble with the film is that, while plenty of Woody Allen films have their fair share of philosophical ideas, the wonderful Crimes and Misdemeanours comes to mind immediately, the philosophy in his latest film is just utterly lightweight. There is discussion about whether God is dead, or whether the supernatural really exists, but Stanley is such a pontificating bore about his atheism and supposed rationality that he makes Richard Dawkins seem like a sensitive, genteel flower who keeps himself to himself. His ‘conversion’ is also so sudden, it’s hard to believe it’s credible. It doesn’t help that Colin Firth is and always will be an utterly charmless leading man for romantic comedies like this. A solid actor in the right role, he’s simply not built to take on the roles that, in a bygone age, would have gone to Clark Gable and Cary Grant.
The film’s philosophical edge is so dull that one eventually just has to ignore it, and approach the film for what it actually is: a simple, whimsical romantic comedy. Despite having Colin Firth as a leading man, it somewhat succeeds in this respect. There are plenty of witty lines splattered around the film, and a few laughs. Then again, nowhere near as many laughs as Allen’s best films.
Emma Stone puts in a great performance with a lot of charm, humour and sweetness. There’s a particularly funny scene during a séance where she goes into a trance in an attempt to contact the dead, parodying all those supposedly spooky séances we’ve seen in countless ten-a-penny horrors over the years. There’s a wealth of great supporting performances too, from Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s financially protective mother to Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s slightly clichéd but wise old aunt. The look of the film too, is quite pleasant, with a luscious soft focus to the landscape giving the south coast of France a romantic, nostalgic sheen.
So, it’s another nice, whimsical romcom from the man who’s made more of them than anyone else. Woody Allen fans will probably enjoy it enough, though it’s hard to see anyone really savouring every moment of Magic in the Moonlight. Firth is its biggest turnoff and almost exclusively ruins what would have otherwise been a solid if forgettable comedy.