Magic in the Moonlight, 2014.
Directed by Woody Allen.
Starring Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Erica Leerhsen, Eileen Atkins, and Simon McBurney.
A sceptical magician attempts to unmask a young woman claiming supernatural powers, only to question his own beliefs.
Magic in the Moonlight gives us so much of what is good about Woody Allen’s films and writing: a beautiful setting, a wickedly funny leading man and the promise of a good story. However it gives us some of his worst traits as well, including a slow finish to an all too predictable plot.
The film starts us off in the late 1920’s, at a magic show by the great Wei Ling Soo who turns out to be the narcissistic Englishman, Stanley (Colin Firth). A man obsessed with all things rational, he performs feats such as disappearing and reappearing within his shows, but makes abundantly clear that this is indeed simply a show and there is no magic going on – there are no such things as magic or a spirit world nor anything remotely like a God. So, when an old magician friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) comes to him for help exposing a young American spiritualist Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is defrauding a wealthy, socialite family with her mystical powers Stanley leaps at the opportunity.
Stanley travels to the rich family’s estate in the South of France, quickly concluding the elder woman Grace (Jackie Weaver), who hopes to communicate with her husband, and the son Brice (Hamish Linklater) are clearly idiots being taken in by this fraud and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). When Sophie displays great knowledge about Stanley himself and he can find no fault in her technique he works even harder to expose her.
Unfortunately the film starts to go somewhat downhill from this point. Sophie convinces Stanley all too easily of her so-called ‘mental vibrations’, swaying his whole belief system over in a matter of days. From here the plot abruptly moves into a ‘will they won’t they’ romance, rather than the cat and mouse chase it seemed we would be getting. Whilst still amusing, the film becomes a little bit predictable and events play out as they would in any other formulaic plot, with only a brief respite where Stanley returns to trying to expose the beautiful Sophie.
Colin Firth is witty, dry and funny as Stanley, holding the audiences interest at the point in which the plot fails to do so and was the only part of this whole section that kept my interest. His abrupt and antisocial nature was constantly funny; he would insult people with his wicked tongue and lack all empathy with another character’s situation. This arrogant demeanour along with an obsession with death at least keeps our main character interesting where the story isn’t. He and Emma Stone have an awkward chemistry; although opposites do sometimes attract these two are such polar opposites it shouldn’t work and feels forced.
The rest of the cast serve their small purpose, but other than Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s Aunt, none truly get much chance to shine or do more than be insulted by Stanley and his scepticism. Woody Allen wrote this as well as directing and it comes across as two films put together as one. It starts off funny and looks to be another gem for his collection, until the switch to an unengaging romantic comedy. Whilst a lot of the dialogue is good, it tries to be thought provoking in its discussions on God and the spirit world but comes across as somewhat condescending and pretentious.
Despite the split personality, Magic in the Moonlight is consistently funny and sometimes clever but slips into something that teeters on the edge of dull. I wish Woody had stayed on course with what could have been something deeper, but it still left me smiling and entertained albeit with some lighter fare.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★