Genre: Comedy, Romance
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater
Throughout his career, Woody Allen has proven himself to be a consistently vivacious storyteller. He admirably remains true to himself and tells the tales that he wants to. Of course, given the magnitude of his output, it’s no surprise that he doesn’t always succeed in hitting the mark. Much like the shining sun he bathes many of his stories in, the quality of Woody Allen’s films rises and then falls. And so it goes that, following his critical triumph Blue Jasmine, Allen’s latest feels decidedly lacklustre.
Visually, the writer/director continues to prove he is a master of his craft. With the help of DoP Darius Khondji, Allen basks his audience and his story in the glaring sun of the Cote d’Azur. His camera lovingly lingers on the idyllic beauty of the French countryside and he gazes in awe at the lavishness of the period (it’s set in 1928), effortlessly imbuing the film with a balmy glow. Unfortunately, as it quickly transpires, everything else about Magic in the Moonlight fails to embody the warmth so naturally exuded by this aesthetic.
At the heart of the film is a tiresomely clichéd romantic tale that’s more of a dreary dalliance than a dreamy one. Colin Firth plays obnoxious English gent Stanley, who travels to the South of France in the hope of revealing Emma Stone’s young American spiritualist Sophie as a fraud. However, as he grows to know her, Stanley begins to fall under the power of Sophie’s spell, and what’s more, he begins to think that he’s falling in love with her.
While it visually glistens throughout, the film itself barely manages to sparkle. The nauseatingly generic plot stumbles forward at a languorous pace, gradually building to a finale that’s as cheesy and gooey as an over baked Camembert. And it’s complemented with an endless onslaught of weighty dialogue that consistently lacks any real wit.
The performances do little to enhance the effect. Firth essentially plays an aristocratic version of the archetypical Woody Allen character. But he adopts a bizarrely aggressive tone throughout, spewing endless lines of sarcasm in a way that’s never funny or charming, just annoying. Emma Stone meanwhile is dependably likeable, but she consistently overacts as the spirit medium (all glazed eyes and shaking arms). Inevitably, the pair noticeably lack the chemistry needed to bring clarity to their character’s blossoming romance, eventually causing the entirety of the film to feel like an exercise in futility.
Even long-time Allen fans are likely to find themselves frustrated by this one. Despite the enchanting location, this film fails to deliver on the promise of its director and its title; there’s precious little moonlight, and even less magic.