Much has been said of the variable quality of his output over the last decade or so, but even after nearly five decades in the business, when Woody Allen hits his stride he can still knock it out of the park. So after the sublime Blue Jasmine last year expectations were always going to be high for the follow up, and with that in mind Magic In The Moonlight is sadly a bit of a disappointment.
The story follows Colin Firth’s Stanley Crawford, alias Wei Ling Soo, a world renowned magical artist and debunker of mystical bunkum, as he is recruited to out the young Sophie (Emma Stone), a naif-like clairvoyant, as a fraud. The more he gets to know her the more bewildered he is by her apparent powers, and a third act romantic tangle naturally rears it’s head.
There’s plenty here to enjoy, littered with many recognisable Allen-isms (obsession with magic, that trademark razor wit, a middle aged chap falling for a much younger woman), it has the potential to be classic Allen, but in the end it falls quite a long way short of the mark.
That’s not to say it’s a complete write-off; even off form, as he sadly is here, Allen still delivers plenty of great humour and effective observation on the human condition, but it just doesn’t seem to amount to much in the end.
Recruiting a great cast (they must be queueing up to work with him), they all do the best with the lines they’re given and for the most part it all holds together fairly well, if a little too breezily.
Firth and Stone are both fine and charismatic as the leads, although the rushed script leads to some fairly clunky line readings, and as a result most of the big moments utterly fail to convince. And although he settles in eventually, Colin Firth’s abrasive (and often unlikeable) Stanley takes far too long to get used to thanks to an excess of expositional dialogue that renders many scenes unwieldy and even dull.
On the plus side the film looks beautiful thanks to sterling work by cinematographer Darius Khondji (who has photographed most of Allen’s recent European output). The idealised 1920’s southern French setting is beautifully realised, every shot shimmering with a golden sunshine glow, the period costumes twinkling from the screen. This is how last years Great Gatsby should have looked.
In the end then, it’s an entertaining enough diversion offering a few good smirks and some decent work by the cast; but by stretching the premise too thinly it comes across as more of an under-developed half film with more potential than it can fulfil. Fingers crossed for the next one.