Magic in The Moonlight: Movie Review
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Jacki Weaver
Director: Woody Allen
Director Woody Allen stays in Europe for his latest outing.
This time it's 1920s France, where famous illusionist (and monstrous man) Wei Ling Soo aka Stanley (an unlikeable Colin Firth) has been called in by his friend Howard (Rev star Simon McBurney) to debunk a clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone), who could be part of a scam.
Famously outspoken against clairvoyants, Stanley's determined to remove Sophie from the scene but his plans are derailed when she stuns him with the depth of her knowledge and apparent insight into the spirit world.
And his world view is thrown further into disarray when he starts to spend more time with Sophie.
Magic In the Moonlight follows a typical formula of a man being set up for a fall; with bluster and strong self belief, the skeptic Stanley goes through the motions of vehemently not believing, suddenly believing and then ultimately not believing again as he tries to negotiate his own questions of life beyond the pale.
Brash, abrasive, and generally grumpy, Firth's Stanley is a difficult man to get behind in this piece from Allen, that's about as light and unchallenging as anything he's recently put out. Add to that though, the fact that this Allen flick is as lifeless as one of the spirits Sophie's trying to channel throughout and Magic In the Moonlight starts to lose some of its real shine.
Allen's trademark talkiness is still in play, but the dialogue doesn't sparkle at all; none of the repartie or banter has any hidden levels or revelling in any kind of joy; most of Firth's renunciations and retorts are laced with a cruelty and harshness that means you fail to generate any empathy for what's transpiring. And over time, while the continual digs provide a scoffing from the audience, the overall effect is one of tedium, not medium. Even Stone feels downplayed a little as the waif-like Sophie, the psychic unable to really channel anything other than unfortunately feeling slightly miscast and out of place.
Allen uses the gorgeous setting of southern France to maximum effect but he demonstrates an over-reliance on jazz tunes to segue each scene; it's not enough to lift Magic In the Moonlight in ways you'd be hoping for; a final sequence adds in a clever use of a motif demonstrated early on and offers one delight, but an abrupt ending is shorn of any emotion or pull, with Allen leaving you with the feeling of a rushed screenplay and resolution.
Questions and ruminations on a life after may have been the thrust for this, with even potential discussions and viewpoints of cynicism and vehement denial forming more of a drive for any verbal jousting between Stanley, Sophie and even Howard, but Allen eschews all of that in favour of plenty of scenes of Stanley merely musing out loud.
All in all, Magic In the Moonlight is a film that has no real lasting magic once the lights have gone up even if it is pleasant enough - albeit frustrating - to watch transpire in parts.