Magic In The Moonlight Review

Magic In The Moonlight

Woody Allen, like many artists, goes through highs and lows, and often sequentially.

His previous work, Blue Jasmine, was a critical hit and nabbed, amongst other awards, an Oscar for Cate Blanchett. So all in all, one of his better films. Which, given his pattern of late, doesn’t bode well for its immediate successor.

His latest directorial offering, Magic In The Moonlight, isn’t exactly a low; more like something on its way down from a high.

The story, set in the 1920’s, is a charming little concoction involving a master magician called Wee Ling Soo, played by Colin Firth with the aid of some not-exactly-PC Oriental makeup.

Soo is, in reality, an Englishman by the name of Stanley Crawford. One evening, post-show, Stanley’s help is enlisted by fellow magician Howard Burkan.

Howard has been asked by a wealthy American family, the Catledges, to expose a young mystic who they suspect may be conning them. He cannot fathom how the con is being played out, so flatters Stanley into helping.

It isn’t long before the pair are winging their way to the Catledges’ estate on the French Riveria, intent on debunking the fraudster.

In addition to the Catledge matriarch Grace (the great but underused Jacki Weaver) and her son, Brice (Hamish Linklater, channelling Will Ferrell in ‘serious’ mode), Stanley encounters the aforementioned mystic, Sophie Baker (played by Emma Stone). Sophie proclaims that her psychic powers allow Grace to communicate with her departed husband.

Sophie is, at the time, being romanced by filthy-rich Brice whilst Stanley is betrothed to the near-perfect Olivia (Catherine McCormack).

But as Stanley gets close to Sophie, he finds himself questioning his devotion to logic and rationality, and in parallel she finds herself drawn to Stanley’s vulnerable side.

Frankly, you don’t need to be psychic to guess which way this one is heading.

Whatever else you may say, Allen is an intelligent, witty and rarely disappointing writer, and his dialogue here is no exception.

The main fault of the screenplay is the weak plot, as it hits familiar beats and draws to a predictable, yet unrealistic, conclusion.

And the film’s central message about trusting your heart over your head, and believing in spirituality over science, is delivered repeatedly with sledgehammer delicacy.

Allen’s attention to dialogue is sometimes to the detriment of his directing capabilities, often treating actors as mere vessels to get his words out. Such is the feeling for the opening twenty minutes here.

Fortunately the central roles are in capable hands.

Stanley is initially hard to warm to, self-centred and emotionally closed off. Through Firth, his pomp soon becomes endearing.

Sophie meanwhile is introduced as a suspected fraudster, but it’s hard for either Stanley or the audience to resist Emma Stone’s eyes, smile and general onscreen charisma.

And the chemistry between the two is quite potent. Just try to ignore the age gap.

The supporting cast is generally strong too, with Eileen Atkins on great form as Stanley’s aunt Vanessa, and Simon McBurney is typically ambiguous as Stanley’s acquaintance Howard.

The film will also appeal to any aficionados of the period, with its charming evocation of the 1920’s, topped off by Darius Khondji’s sublime cinematography.

Overall, a harmless but hardly groundbreaking Allen effort, arguably eclipsed by his superior works.

Conor Brennan

One Response to “Magic In The Moonlight Review”
  1. avatar David Murphy says:

    Brilliantly written review that has probably helped persuade me to give this movie a watch. cheers:)

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Dates ‘n stuff

September 2014