It appears that Woody Allen is firmly entrenched in the ‘grand tour’ phase of his career. The writer/director’s output over the past decade has seen him wandering around Europe churning out largely serviceable pieces of neurotic romance. At this point it feels a bit like any new film is just another stop on Woody’s European itinerary of luxurious psychogeographic flattery; but part of me feels like the guy has earned a bit of leeway with his choice of backdrops.
Magic in the Moonlight adds to Allen’s catalogue only really in terms of quantity and little else. It’s periodically amusing but never seeks to say anything he hasn’t already said before, and better. It might be too harsh to suggest that there’s a formula to this, but without question Allen is well beyond running the risk of repeating himself. If it provides suitably touching or entertaining results then so be it, but Magic feels a bit conventional and, disappointingly, gives neither of its stars enough of a chance to cast their own luminous glow.
Colin Firth’s sceptic magician, Stanley (alter ego Wei Ling Soo) travels to the south of France to debunk a young spirit medium, Sophie (Emma Stone). A champion of reason and logic, Stanley has earned himself a reputation for being able to see through the tricks of such mediums and is relishing the opportunity to expose another as a fraud. This time, however, as he observes Sophie make her predictions and communicate with the dead during séances, he is unable to fathom her methods and quickly becomes obsessed with her.
There’s nothing present here that you won’t have already see done much better, and done much better by Woody Allen himself. He’s fond of his neurotic, misanthropic geniuses and even fonder of giving them doe-eyed, winsome young women to chat up.
Allen seems to pour much of himself into his protagonists – Firth’s grumpy magician is described by one character as utterly depressed, from an unhappy childhood and living through his art – and while that’s admirable, one can’t help wondering if there’s much point in revisiting the same character again and again; particularly one as difficult and disappointingly unfunny as Colin Firth’s egomaniacal conjuror.
Stone’s cheerful, slightly giddy Sophie is charming enough, but her relationship with Stanley, standoffish at first before blossoming into almost completely unjustified romance, stretches the limits of credibility.
There’s the odd titter to be had, but none of the sly humour or emotional resonance of some of Allen’s vast back catalogue. There’s breathtaking scenery in abundance which is hardly surprising when you film on location in the French Riviera, and maybe that’s a lot of the motivation. I don’t mind so much if Woody Allen decides to treat himself to a 12-week working holiday on the Côte d’Azur; I just wish he’d make it a little more worth my while.
Genre: Comedy, Romance Distributor: 19th September 2014 (UK) Rating: 15 Running Time:97 Minutes Director: Woody Allen Cast: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Hamish Linklater