7 February 2015

Woody Allen’s 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Woody Allen, as is well-known, directs a film every year, some markedly better than others. The first posted about here was the successful Midnight in Paris in 2011. To Rome with Love, good in parts, followed in 2012 and then, in 2013, came Blue Jasmine. This had the considerable advantages of a script deriving from Tennessee Williams and of a performance by Kate Blanchette which won her an Oscar. However, in September 2014 Magic in the Moonlight had such indifferent reviews in the UK that I didn’t bother to go. Now that the film has become easily available in the UK on DVD and online*, it seemed time to find out whether the critics were right.

Magic in the Moonlight begins in Berlin in 1928 with the theatre act of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), a professional magician who appears internationally under the stage name of Wei Ling Soo. After the performance he is taken to a nightclub by a fellow magician, a scene which allows a brief homage to Marlene Dietrich (right**). Unfortunately, after this early promise of another Midnight in Paris, things go downhill. Crawford is persuaded to go, under yet another name, to the South of France where some wealthy Americans have fallen under the spell of a young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone). His mission is to expose her as a fraud but when he sets about this task complications ensue.

Firth does as well as he can within the limitations of the plot and Crawford’s stony character, and Stone provides the ambiguity necessary to sustain Baker’s being either a fraud or a true seer. Some of the dialogue about the nature of reality and the conflict of love and rationality is amusing but the plot is lifeless and lacking in humour, like most of the supporting cast. Much of the filming seems to have been done in early morning or early evening and the lighting seems unreal. But no doubt intentionally, the director of A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) has chosen to set his film in a magical world where observatories are left unlocked, there are impossible reappearances and people travel from the Côte d’Azur to Provence (no more possible than from Cornwall to the West Country or from Rhode Island to New England).

Magic in the Moonlight is at the level of Allen’s lean period from 2000 to 2010, the exception then being Vicky Christina Barcelona. Let’s hope 2015’s Irrational Man will be back on more recent form.

* £9.99 and not really worth it.

** For a clip of Dietrich in von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, see this post from three years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment