It has been a while since I watched a Woody Allen film without cringing. While his previous classics like and Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), and Stardust Memories (1980) have stayed with me forever, since watching the unspeakably bad Scoop (2006) in which he insisted on starring himself taking down a usually charming Scarlett Johansson in the process, I have avoided his films with determination. Never wanting to feel that slightly sick feeling in my stomach again – especially in the theatre.
So it is not with a small amount of concern that I started Magic in the Moonlight having been told by a few fairly rigorous people that it was ‘okay’. Well, surprisingly it is. While the plot line and the conclusions are all easy peasy to guess, in their intense clichés, it is the setting and ease of the talented ensemble cast that kept me happily distracted for the duration. It prompted me to write a review on a film maker that is clearly still making films because he loves to, even though he has very little to actually say.
So this latest Woody Allen confection (which is exactly that, sweet and fluffy) is set in the French Riviera, which practically glows with a romantic haze aided by Darius Khondji’s lighting and golden filters. It is here, at a beautiful home owned by rich American expatriates, that the grumpy sceptical Colin Firth is brought in to debunk a young mystic named Sophie Baker (played by Emma Stone) who claims she can commune with the dead through séances and has spot-on moments of psychic accuracy that are admittedly uncanny. Firth’s character, the very British Stanley Crawford, is actually the world famous magician, Wei Ling Soo, and this being the late 1920s, his illusionism is astonishingly effective. His scepticism, though, when it comes to the otherworldly is hard to match.
As Sophie plays her tricks and adorably starts to wrap Stanley around her finger, dressed in charming flapper dresses and little hats, the film begins to remind you of one those cosy old Agatha Christie mysteries, cleverly set up in an old picturesque house by the sea, peopled by characters straight out of these fictional whodunits.
Magic in the Moonlight is not a film if you’re in a cynical mood, or your tolerance levels are somewhat low for whatever reason. I would say watch it if you just want some pleasurable distraction. Colin Firth and Emma Stone will charm you thoroughly, but perhaps some of their quick witted dialogue might even grate a little on nervous ears. After all there is always a bit of a trade-off when one opts for the superficial over the profound, however enjoyable it may be.