Woody Allen is famous for many masterworks, so rarely has he disappointed with his flicks. Yet, it appears he has done so here with his latest offering, Magic in the Moonlight, a rather so-so comedy-drama that will prompt many shrugged shoulders from audiences. It is not that the film is bad – it just lacks its titular magic that keeps it from being great.
The plot is, nonetheless, a great concept for a comedy film. The setting is 1920’s France, where famous English illusionist, Stanley Tapplenger (Colin Firth) – who performs his acts under the guise of Chinese character, Wei Ling Soo – is asked by his friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), to investigate a female mystic, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone). Berkan believes this American woman to be a fraud who is pretending to be a mystic to garner the affections of a rich man and his family. This rich family promises yachts, motorcars and journeys to exciting new places, a glaring proposition to anyone with Sophie’s lower-class heritage. It is this suspicious scenario that entices the cynical Stanley to take on this case and expose her for what she really is.
The plot ambles along at a steady pace to the point where not much is happening. We get several scenes of Firth’s character deriding Stone’s psychic abilities with his witty cynicism, but the repetitiveness of this does get tedious after a while. Even when Stanley is finally convinced that Sophie does have the powers of a medium, prompting him to adopt a more optimistic perspective on life, the change is so quick and more of a ‘heel-face turn’ that it is unbelievable. The theme of changing cynicism into optimism and believing you can be happy is all well and good, and a great theme for a film no doubt, it’s just poorly executed here, creating no emotional change in the audience. The sloppiness of the script certainly doesn’t help much either.
However, many a laugh can be had through Firth’s great British upper-lip with his sarcastic and cynical character, Stanley, who mocks Sophie Baker’s seemingly fake psychic powers. Firth plays his role brilliantly and, without a shadow of a doubt, is the real star of the show. It’s just a shame that his co-lead, Emma Stone, isn’t quite as compelling with her performance. Yes, she appears to play the role of Sophie Baker, but let us make no mistake – she’s really playing Emma Stone. Perhaps what makes this worse is that she shares no on-screen chemistry with Firth and this makes for their budding relationship in the film appear extremely unlikely. Yes, yes, this unlikely relationship is the point of the film, but the extent to which it plays out here is just not credible.
Perhaps the reason for this is the lack of character development. There really isn’t much here that makes the audience care for these characters. Although played to perfection, Stanley seems to be a snarky commentator on the film’s plot more than anything and offers no emotional connection. As for Stone’s character, although the film attempts to develop her, it fails to make us love her. It is not ever explained what makes her attracted to Stanley in the first place; it just happens and, thus, the union between these two characters feels forced and unnatural.
In conclusion, it would be wrong to say that Woody Allen’s latest flick is a travesty. That’s not the case here; it offers some very entertaining, light-hearted moments that stand out well. The fact is, however, that it is ultimately a forgettable film with disappointing characterisation and weak plot-pacing. Woody Allen has created some great works, but this certainly isn’t one of them.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10