‘Magic in the Moonlight’
If I didn’t know who had directed ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, I would find it difficult to believe it’s a Woody Allen film. Apart from the thread about the supernatural versus rationalism which is decidedly Allenesque, this fluffy romantic story about a famous illusionist (Colin Firth) sent to unmask a pretty young clairvoyant, Sophie (Emma Stone) might have been concocted by someone else altogether.
All the same, there is much to like about the film, starting with the setting – the Riviera in 1928, which provides the opportunity to dress the cast in elegant 1920s costumes and place them in stunning locations – from cliff tops overlooking a dazzlingly blue sea to gorgeous villas surrounded by terraced lawns and gardens abloom with irises and hydrangeas. Then there’s the delightful soundtrack featuring numbers such as Cole Porter’s ‘You Do Something to Me’ (which also made a brief appearance in ‘Midnight in Paris’) as well as some stirring classical interludes by Beethoven and Stravinsky.
As usual, Allen has assembled a solid cast, headed by Colin Firth as magician extraordinaire Wei Ling Soo, who’s really an Englishman by the name of Stanley, a self-obsessed and supercilious boor. In fact, he could easily be a 1920s version of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. Just as he did in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Firth manages to inject some of his trademark charm into the otherwise arrogant and cynical character. And just an aside – when I saw Firth in the opening scene, made up to look stereotypically Chinese, he reminded me of British actor, Robert Donat in ‘Inn of the Sixth Happiness’. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the resemblance.
The film is graced by fine supporting performances: the ever dependable Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s aunt, the ubiquitous Simon McBurney as Stanley’s school friend and rival magician, and Jackie Weaver as the rich widow with the Bronx accent, longing to make psychic contact with her dead husband. Although the character as written tends to be one-dimensional, Weaver does her best to impart depth to the role and being a very fine actress, she succeeds.
Where the film falters is in the writing. There are scenes between Stanley and Sophie towards the end in which the dialogue is repetitive and self-indulgent. Why didn’t someone tell Woody Allen he needed to do some pruning? I guess the answer is obvious – when you’re dealing with an auteur of his standing, you’d be apprehensive about offering advice like that. ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ is 100 minutes in length but seems longer. Having said that, Allen's plot does offer some neat twists and turns, leading to a charming resolution.
In summary, ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ isn’t in the league of ‘Annie Hall’, ‘Radio Days’ or ‘Midnight in Paris’, but it’s an enjoyable piece of nostalgic escapism nonetheless.
September 10, 2014