Throughout his body of work, Woody Allen has always dabbled with magic. There is something about the impossible and the mystical that seems to fascinate a man so obsessed with his own mortality. The common consensus seems to be that, these days, Allen’s movies rise and fall in a natural motion. His last six or seven films certainly seem to have followed a particular pattern. Between each masterpiece is a slightly forgettable charmer. Some would argue that between each work of evident substance is a flop, but I still can’t bring myself to see great fault in work this charming. Following his Oscar triumph, Blue Jasmine, Magic in the Moonlight should have been another forgettable bore. It’s certainly quite forgettable but it contains enough of Allen’s usual wit and philosophy to keep a smile on my face. Allen’s cinematic travels across Europe have landed him back in France – the main reason that Magic in the Moonlight is so breath-taking to look at. The romance of the 1920s setting oozes through the scene and seeps through every lens flare. Allen directs his film’s location and period as well as his actors as he captures not only an amusing and enchanting romantic comedy but the heart of the south of France during the 1920s. During a beautiful French Summer in 1928, one of the world’s greatest illusionists arrives at a friend’s holiday home in order to expose the fraudulence of a woman claiming to be a psychic. As he gradually finds himself becoming convinced by her abilities he also begins to question the world; a world he’s always seen as meaningless and taken literally.
Stanley (Firth) has a scientific mind. He thinks logically and insults all who don’t. Magic in the Moonlight is a study of how we view our world and the illusions we cling to in order to simply get through life. A recent article in the Guardian addressed the troubling issues that recur in most of Woody Allen’s mediocre works – one being the awkward romantic age gap. There is no awkwardness between Emma Stone and Colin Firth here. Both seize the opportunity to work with Allen, with Stone falling particularly well into an “Allen-esque” naturalism. Firth seems like both an odd and ideal choice for Allen to work with. Odd for his regimented English exterior and ideal for his neurotic onscreen abilities. It is initially uncomfortable to watch Firth try to portray a typical Allen character, and all his beliefs, but once we, including Firth, settle into the film he grows in likeability and charisma. All the Allen-isms are here. If this was the first Allen film you ever saw you wouldn’t be appalled but I doubt you would seek out more. The first Woody Allen movie I ever saw was Vicky Cristina Barcelona and at the tender age of 17 I was far from impressed. Luckily this didn’t prevent my obsession with the director developing two years later. Allen can’t be expected to make a life-changing movie every year. He shouldn’t even be expected to make a new film a year. But he does. And thank goodness he does. There will come a day when Woody Allen doesn’t make movies any more. Until then, movies like Magic in the Moonlight will come and go with little appreciation or impact. But I’m convinced that there will come a day when their absence will be far too apparent and that will be a sad day for cinema. “Just nice” is sometimes deeply underrated.
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