Magic in the Moonlight – Review ★★

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The new Woody Allen film is about magic, common sense, reason and the French Riviera, with a touch of romance to all of it. After the success of Midnight in Paris, that won the prolific director an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and the depressive Blue Jasmine, which relaunched Cate Blanchett as a great actress, Magic in the Moonlight has been awaited anxiously by Allen fans.

Colin Firth plays Stanley, a cynical, Dr. House lovechild magician whose hobby is unmasking charlatans and mediums. The chance to do it in a more pleasant climate comes when a friend brings him word about Sophie (Emma Stone), a “pretty little thing” that receives “mental vibrations” and is in the process of being wooed and courted by the son and heir to a fortune. Stanley seizes the opportunity immediately to pet his mega ego even more (and pay a visit to his dear Aunt Vanessa – Eileen Atkins – who lives nearby), and gets himself to France. There, however, he is unable to figure out Sophie’s tricks, but falls more and more in love with her. An accident makes Stanley reconsider even further his views about the invisible world (a great place to open a restaurant), but can love really win over reason?

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Just like bowel movements, Woody Allen tends to be fairly regular at putting a new film out. The problem with such proactivity is, not all films are made equal, and unfortunately Magic in the Moonlight is not one of the good ones. The film suffers from a lack of humour (and the jokes that are there, apart from some dialogue pearls, feel somewhat forced) and an arrhythmia that does not work in its favour. One is not sure if it should be taken as a pastiche of a film from the 20s or 50s (there are certainly some Rossellini moments to it), or if it’s just the acting that feels dated.

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The truth is, Colin Firth is not the man to deliver Allen’s lines, and even less when they are not to a great level on the page. Playing the cynical, to an actor that got fame playing the good guy, is an interesting premise, however, but he just feels like a posh fish out of water in a world he cannot understand. Stone feels much more at ease with her character and silliness, but the real star of the film has to be Eileen Atkins as the sarcastic Aunt Vanessa. Her delivery is always perfect, and there is a brilliant scene (one of the few) closer to the ending where we can watch her in all her glory.

The cinematography is beautiful (nothing less would be expected from Se7en’s cinematographer Darius Khondji) and the costumes and locations have a certain Great Gatsby feel to them, but unfortunately there’s no film to go with it. The clichéd ending – even more painful when we are given a “proper” ending a few minutes before with no lovey-dovey included – is the final straw on a film that will be easily forgotten on the canon of a man that can do so much better. After all, this isn’t Allen. This is just woody. 

Magic in the Moonlight will be released in cinemas this Friday.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.