Woody Allen writes and directs a film every year. This alone is commendable at the tender age of 79. Furthermore, his previous film, Blue Jasmine, proved he can write with as much intelligence and emotional depth as he did during his golden period in the 70s. It was one of my favourite films of 2013. It is with disappointment then that Magic in the Moonlight is in that regard a step back.
Woody’s newest project is set in the 1920s and stars Colin Firth as Stanley, a renowned stage magician and psychic debunker who strongly believes in rationality and the laws of science. Openly disdainful of both tricksters and those who are tricked, he gets asked by his friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to head to the Côte d’Azur, where a rich American family have been completely taken in by professed medium Sophie (Emma Stone). Utterly certain she is simply another con artist, he is dismissive and rude to her. But the more he starts to believe in her act, the more he falls in love.
It’s story that walks the same line as much of Woody’s previous work; the cynic falling for the optimist; the unlikely couple; the will-they won’t-they arc, and although it’s all competently done, there’s nothing new here. With that said, it’s never anything but a delight, bolstered by two strong performances from Colin Firth and Emma Stone. Their verbal sparring epitomises what’s great about Allen’s writing, and at times evokes the spirit of such great flirtatiously fighting couples as Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice and Benedick. There’s also strong support from Simon McBurney as Stanley’s long-suffering friend, and Eileen Atkins as his all-wise aunt. But amongst the fighting and various setbacks to their romance, you know eventually that whatever happens, they’re going to end up together, no matter how unbelievable the age gap is.
And that’s the problem: it’s a beautifully directed and acted piece of confection; sweet but predictable. There’s no tension and little drama. Various conversations about the nature of reality and the physical versus the metaphysical give it a little more depth, but the fact is, Woody can do much better.
Image Rights; Warner Bros. Magic In the Moonlight is Available Now on DVD and Download. Find it Here.