The 400-Word-Review: Magic in the Moonlight
By Sean Collier
August 19, 2014
Woody Allen’s next film will be his 50th as writer and/or director. That type of output, spanning 50 years of cinema, is mostly unparalleled — certainly when so many of Allen’s works are as brilliant as they are.
The law of averages, though, would dictate that even the greats will swing and miss a fair number of times over that many at-bats. And with Allen’s remarkably reliable work schedule (he has served as writer/director on at least one film every year since 1982,) one has to assume that sometimes he just sits down and types out whatever pops into his head.
Magic in the Moonlight is a good example of that. It’s sometimes funny, often charming. Undeniably a Woody Allen picture. It’s just sort of stupid.
Stanley (Colin Firth) tours the world as a stage magician, under heavy makeup and the name Wei Ling Soo. When a professional acquaintance (Simon McBurney) tells him of Sophie (Emma Stone), a young female medium who can’t be debunked, he races to the French Riviera to expose her as a fraud. As weeks go by, however, Stanley can’t find a chink in her armor — and, in decidedly bad news for Sophie’s ukulele-toting fiancé Brice (Hamish Linklater), he finds himself fixated on the young woman.
Firth and Stone are their charming selves, though the 27 years between them are hard to ignore. The cast members certainly seem to be enjoying themselves — who wouldn’t, with a breezy shoot in the French Riviera — and the chemistry and wit at hand is enough to keep things ambling along.
What’s absent, though, is any real sense of development among the characters. Sophie doesn’t seem to have any genuine interest in Brice or Stanley. Stanley’s growing infatuation with Sophie comes out of nowhere, particularly after he’s unnecessarily cruel to her through the first reel. In fact, no action seems in any way motivated by the action that preceded it — it quite literally seems that the characters keep doing things only because Allen kept typing.
His directing helps to cover his tracks, though, as he shoots the countryside with beauty and care. His great skill in capturing the feeling of a location, once believed to be a New York phenomenon, has been revealed as a global trait; traveling with Allen to Barcelona or Rome or San Francisco is as refreshing as ever, story or no story.
My Rating: 6/10