In Review: Magic in the Moonlight

by Daniel Goodwin on 18/09/2014

Magic in the Moonlight

Though his work may fluctuate in quality you can’t knock Woody Allen for inconsistency (a film a year for the past 40 is pretty good going) and while Magic in the Moonlight features traits strongly associated with his later work: sun-kissed, foreign locations, sumptuous cinematography as well as another strong, multi-layered female protagonist, it remains a tad slapdash.

Wei Ling Soo, real name Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), a successful, mirthless magician is requested by friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to visit an associate and assess the authenticity of local medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has enchanted their household with her flawless predictions and, seemingly, the ability to summon the spirits of dead family members. As a stern atheist, Stanley accepts the offer, but naturally there is more than meets the eye of the charming Ms Baker.

Despite it’s “autochrome” beauty captured on Cinemascope lenses, Magic in the Moonlight’s editing feels slightly hasty and botched. With such a wonderful but underdeveloped central concept one would imagine it working better as a stage play, as soiree-set, dialogue scenes dominate the story but while waxing lyrical it often fails to ring true.

Firth plays one of Allen’s most disagreeable characters in a while and, like Larry David’s Boris in Whatever Works (2009) and Allen’s David Dobel in Anything Else (2003), is highly judgemental of others. A scene featuring Firth and Stone struggling to fix a car in the rain is reminiscent of old Allen yet despite Firth being a fine actor he is unconvincing as Crawford. Meanwhile Emma Stone is excellent as another of Allen’s fantastic female protagonists and a world away from Blanchett’s Jasmine.

It is great that Allen is producing works at such a rate but one can’t help wonder if spending more time on individual projects would be ultimately more worthwhile. Magic in the Moonlight is charming due to its cinematography by Darius Khondji (Se7en) [who was inspired by French Photographer Jaques Henri] and Emma Stone’s alluring performance but it lacks decent editing and execution. The story and production are hotchpotch yet there’s a fantastic fluency in the dialogue that, while not appropriate for the medium, remains strangely eloquent. Clumsiness hinders MITM’s heart but a visual grace and breezy nature make it enjoyable all the same.

                          Daniel has awarded Magic in the Moonlight three Torches of Truth


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