Magic In The Moonlight

Art & Culture

I continue to be amazed at a number of things with relation to each successive Woody Allen film: the fact that they keep getting made; the fact that some critics praise them, and audiences go to see them; the willingness of star names to appear in them; and the continuing awfulness of each film. This is one of the worst.

The plot – such as it is. The story is set in 1928. Colin Firth plays a magician who has dedicated his offstage life to unmasking false psychics. He is convinced by a friend and  fellow magician to go the South of France to unmask the new spirit-summoning sensation (Emma Stone). Firth is only too happy to oblige, standing up his fiance in the process, and arrives to find a family apparently being fleeced of their money by Stone and her hard-nosed mother.

He is determined to reveal her to the world as a fraud, but when he is unable to discover her tricks, he is suddenly converted into a passionate believer, abandoning his lifelong misanthropy in the process, and announcing to the world that (in Hamlet's words) "there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." That takes us halfway through the film, and though there are couple more lame twists, I won't spoil such feeble pleasures as there are to be had in seeing what happens.

The plot is paper thin, but that's not really the problem. The challenge facing anyone not lulled into the complete abandonment of critical faculties by the names of Allen and Firth, will notice a couple of things. One is, Allen can't direct scenes, and the other is that he can't write dialogue. Which makes Firth's valiant attempts to bear any resemblance to a credible human being into a waste of time. His Stanley is one dimensional at best, comprising a series of cliched lines and face-pulling exercises; when he undergoes the complete change of personality that the script requires him to, there simply isn't the material to make it plausible.

The one person to come out of it with any credibility is Emma tone, whose big round eyes and winning smile make her appealing and likeable. But then of course, there's the age thing. Stone in 28 years younger than Firth, which makes the romantic nature of their relationship not just unlikely, but downright creepy. Not that this film is unique in that respect; Allen has a blithe disregard for age gaps – as long as the man is the older of the two. I suppose we're meant to think that Firth's character is in his mid-30s, and that we could imagine Stone is in mid to late 20s, and therefore the discrepancy is less marked. But since it's never even referred to, it becomes an elephant in the room. "He's not just old enough to be your father, he's almost old enough to be your grandfather."

It's hardly a revelation that Allen has become lazy in his old age, whipping out a new script and film every year, with barely any effort beyond sticking two people in the same room, telling them to spout dialogue which is either pure exposition, or the statement of the bleeding obvious, then moving on to the next scene. If this describes itself as a romantic comedy, it should be sued under the Trades Description Act. It's neither funny or romantic, just dull, flaccid and an insult to the audience's intelligence.


Phil Raby 

Front Row Films 

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