So here we are, the midsummer lull following the super hero flicks, the ideal time for our annual Woody Allen instalment. Dim the lights, roll the old-timey music and let's see what Allen has in store.
Magic in the Moonlight combines two of the auteur’s more recent popular trends. First, the extended European vacation, this time locating the action along the sun-kissed coast of France, all winding roads and endless gardens. Second, a period piece that nestles this romantic bonbon in the late 1920s, the sweet spot between the World Wars.
But don’t take that as an invitation to total escapism, because the battle here is between the cynic and the optimist.
Stepping into the requisite Allen-esque character of the amusing grump is Colin Firth.
He is a magician who performs as Wei Ling Soo exploiting the public's infatuation with the exotic East. Stanley’s costume may be laughable but he’s an excellent magician, a demanding perfectionist who has a side business as a professional psychic debunker.
Enter Simon McBurney as his magician pal who stumbles over a American girl who claims to be in touch with the spirit world. Stanley can’t resist and so soon he and "Sophie from Kalamazoo" meet.
With bouncy red hair and a sly smile Emma Stone does what little she can with the role of a young woman looking to make the most of her questionable gifts.
At first, Stanley is skeptical but surprisingly soon he’s swooning and, low and behold, Sophie’s mental abilities have given the cold-hearted rationalist a sunny outlook.
The most disappointing part of Magic in the Moonlight is the lack of intellectual curiosity for a subject that seems tailor-made for Allen.
With the director approaching his eighties, you might think the idea of exploring a life without meaning and confronting ideas about our search for something greater would be too delicious to resist. But other than a couple excuses for Firth to work himself up into a righteous tizzy there’s no real spirit of exploration here.
Once Allen's played his shell game with the story, we’re left with the old standby: the intellectual, made a fool for love.
While gorgeous to look at, Magic in the Moonlight is a surprisingly stifled, lifeless affair. With Sophie engaged to a rich clueless sop who strums a ukulele (played by Hamish Linklater) there’s little real tension in the air.
All in all, the movie feels more like an ambitious stage production rather than a film.
'The most disappointing part of Magic in the Moonlight is the lack of intellectual curiosity for a subject that seems tailor-made for Allen' - Eli Glasner
Given the recent controversies swirling around the director it’s tempting to look for insights on the screen.
There's a lovely moment when Stanley and Sophie find themselves in an observatory looking at the starry night sky. "You can see the universe, it's menacing" said Stanley.
Instead of engaging with the universe, once again Woody Allen retreats to a familiar fantasy, a land of logic where love conquers all.