VOD film review: Magic in the Moonlight
James R | On 03, Feb 2015
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Watch Magic in the Moonlight online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“There’s no such thing as magic,” declares Colin Firth in Woody Allen’s new film. He plays Stanley, a tight-lipped Brit better known to the public as Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese magician whose showstopping trick is transporting himself from a locked sarcophagus into a nearby swivel chair. It’s a nice idea for a comedy. The problem is that Stanley repeats his diatribe over and over. By the time he starts lecturing about rational thought for the 51st time, it gets a little old.
One could say the same about Woody Allen. While Magic in the Moonlight revels in its 1920s period detail – from Darius Khondji’s sumptuously lit country mansions to the stunning French Riviera coast – it feels old in a different way, one that repeats several elements of his previous films. That science versus faith debate, so often a prized argument of the director’s protagonists, is a prime example, as conversations begin to overlap with ones you’ve heard before. Another key scene, which sees his lead couple share an intimate moment in an observatory, feels borrowed straight from Annie Hall.
But if Allen is following his usual formula, he hits some of the right beats, namely in his casting decisions. Colin Firth is impressively annoying as the blustering skeptic, who makes sarcastic comments at every opportunity, although he may irritate many rather than amuse. It’s a pleasure to see fellow Brit Simon McBurney given a prominent role as his sycophantic sidekick too.
The star of the show by eons, though, is Emma Stone. She lights up the place as Sophie, a gifted young clairvoyant whom Stanley is invited to expose. His debunking, though, soon turns to drooling, as he’s dazzled by her red hair, big eyes and seemingly limitless knowledge of his past. Stone hams it up with a hilariously deadpan performance. “I’m getting a mental impression…” she mutters, waving her hands in front of her and gazing at nothing.
Together, the odd pair make a nice contrast – occasionally, too much so, as Emma’s young looks and Colin’s old face err on the side of awkward rather than entertaining. That old-fashioned juxtaposition, though, is just as much a part of Allen’s dated show as everything else, a repertoire that doesn’t think twice about uncomfortable romantic pairings, or perhaps considers it a comic tradition. It’s to the cast’s credit that, by the time the final scene arrives, you stop noticing the gap; or maybe it is simply part of this script’s odd, retro charm.
Nostalgia is central to Magic in the Moonlight’s appeal, itself as hazy as the sun setting in the background of Stanley and Sophie’s daytime jaunts in his motor car. If Firth dips into his Mr. Darcy routine a little too much come the second half of the slow 100 minutess, Stone smooths over the cracks with the hypnotic presence of a blooming Diane Keaton. And that, perhaps, is the astonishing part of this whole act: that every time a new Woody film appears, even on the back of a great one – which, these days, usually spells disaster – die-hard fans still bustle into the proverbial theatre, wishing they’ll be amazed like it’s 30 years ago. The greatest trick Woody Allen ever pulled was convincing the world his bad films didn’t exist. You’ll come out the other side, blinking in surprise, only to forget the mediocre comedy altogether.
“There’s no such thing as magic,” declares Stanley over and over. There is such as thing as Woody Allen, though. And even if he debunks his own illusions one too many times, that remains something to celebrate.
Magic in the Moonlight is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.