Magic in the Moonlight, the latest in Woody Allen’s prolific output, goes back to the idea of a psychic making a living/killing from those looking for a meaning in life, a topic he last examined in You Will Meet A Tall, Dark Stranger. This time the rational voice comes from Colin Firth’s otherwise misanthropic lead character who reminds us early on that the only certainty in life is a visitor in a black robe, words Allen surely wrote himself despite the known license he gives actors to ad-lib in character.
There is classy cinematography, with the sea and skyline in the South of France the film’s real stars, but on the whole it is much weaker than You Will Meet A Tall, Dark Stranger, with a smaller cast and no real sub-plots. The supposed mystery of the occult as practised by Emma Stone’s young American is painfully predictable from the outset and the secondary theme in the film, a connection between the two juxtoposed central characters, never really catches fire, despite the admirable ambition to show there can be magic in life that doesn’t need blind faith, just humanity and circumstance.
Set in 1928, Allen gets to romanticise the roaring twenties with the moneyed class dancing to The Charleston, while showing the grounds of a couple of a country houses in France occupied by the wealthy English and their American visitors. In Midnight in Paris Allen made a point about the mythicism of glorifying periods, specifically the twenties, but it is hard to begrudge him raising the flags he associates with the period here.
Most directors use their own set-pieces more than once and with such a big catalogue it is inevitable Allen also does it occasionally. This time it is more noticeable than usual, as not only does he once again employ a downpour to fall from the skies when his leading couple are outside, he uses the shelter from the storm escape-route straight out of Manhattan.
There are jokes a plenty, but their consistency varies. However, in Hamish Linklater’s Brice there is the creation of a character who immediately brings comedy to the screen by his very presence, a contrast to his more serious role in The Newsroom, which has a habit of sharing Allen’s actors.
Even in this, one of Allen’s weaker films, there are other moments when we are reminded of the writing genius that delivers well-drawn out characters in a short space of time, like a great sit-com writer, which can be referred to by other characters without even being on screen as a vehicle for laughs.
A harsh critic may suggest that the idea for Magic in the Moonlight may have been better off remaining with the other post-its in Allen’s bedside drawers, but his constant production output is part of his creative process, and even in his late seventies there is still always the chance there will be a much better film from him to follow next year.
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