Continuing his staggering run of making at least one film every year since the early eighties, Woody Allen writes and directs ‘Magic in the Moonlight’. In recent times, his work has indulged in the cultures of glamorous European cities such as Barcelona, Paris and Rome, while his new project lands in the French Riviera. Colin Firth stars as respected illusionist Wei Ling Soo who lifts his guise when he takes up the challenge to expose so-called clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone) as nothing more than a fraudster. Will he prove successful in catching her out, or will he succumb to her charms and fall under her spell? Falling short of his finer efforts, the safe plotting and dialogue mean that this one can be filed firmly under pleasant rather than pulsating.
As always with Woody’s pictures, his interests and personality are injected into the bloodstream of his stories. Set during the roaring twenties, the score is peppered with bopping jazz tunes and the trademark pessimistic outlook on life is taken up by Stanley Crawford, which is Wei Ling Soo’s title when he’s not cutting women in two or doing a disappearing act. His dainty adversary has the bright eyes, pale skin and strawberry locks of a porcelain doll and when they meet, the narrative whisks us off in a convertible to an almost idyllic existence where time and reality appear to stand still. Sadly, the script lacks sharpness and intelligence and Stanley lacks likeability, his smugness outweighing any redeeming feature he may have.
Firth is the latest in a line of actors who’ve played a slightly altered version of Woody Allen now that he is a little long in the tooth for the romantic lead, though I suspect he isn’t as well suited to the improvised comedic style as copycats like Owen Wilson or Jesse Eisenberg were. The thirty plus age difference between him and Stone also distorts any connection that may have ignited between them. The sizeable gap has been a recurring theme in his career both on screen and off as middle aged intellectuals seek passion and adventure from attractive, quirky women. Emma Stone fits the bill perfectly for this and is definitely very watchable, appearing to be privy to the methods of the director. Set to be Woody’s next muse, she is already due to star in his next feature where she may be treated to the more involved, engaging material he is known for.
‘Magic in the Moonlight’ has its moments, and presents its location gloriously, but the results beyond the veil are less than enchanting. The working relationship of Allen and Stone shows promising signs which can hopefully come to fruition in time for their upcoming collaboration. The beauty of his relentless workhorse attitude of churning out screenplays so regularly on his trusty typewriter is that although his trip to trickery hasn’t left audiences in awe, we know that there is always something else up his sleeve.