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Magic in the Moonlight – Movie Review

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Magic in the Moonlight – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

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With the frequency at which Woody Allen releases a new film every year, some are bound to be more successful than others. While there are a good number of ones like Annie Hall and The Purple Rose of Cairo that show why he is one of the most respected filmmakers of the past couple of decades, there are also those that seem half-baked. Like any of his others, Magic in the Moonlight has the potential to be another Allen film with smart writing and an eccentric band of characters. However, while pleasant, there is not much under the surface and it never becomes anything more than mildly amusing.

With Colin Firth’s Stanley, we see somebody who doesn’t have the neuroses of the typical Woody Allen lead, but has the same level of cynicism. Yet the wit and self-deprecating one-liners are missing and there is no point where he develops into an interesting character worthy of having an entire film surrounding him. Picking things up slightly is the possibly fake medium Sophie. While not on the same level as those unbeatable roles, it is the sort of character that Allen would have assigned Diane Keaton in the 1970s. It is the typical young spirited lass found in his other works and clearly an extension of his notion of the ideal woman, but there is a charm in Sophie. Part of that is Emma Stone being her usual bubbly self and she becomes believable as a flapper girl of the era. One only wishes she had more successful chemistry with Firth and Hamish Linklater’s potential suitor is a bore.

Magic in the Moonlight’s story is one that would likely be more appropriate as part of one of Allen’s compilation films. The humour is hit-or-miss and the screenplay starts to run dry after a while. As somebody familiar with his personality traits, it’s easy to pinpoint which direction Allen will take and that zaps a bit of the fun from it. When the whole theme is spelled out for the audience, it lacks the poignancy and magic of Midnight in Paris and not even close to as cleverly conveyed. This is not the first time Allen has explored ideas of “optimism vs. cynicism”, but it’s something that he has explored with more heart and impact in the past. Maybe it’s time for Woody Allen to tackle new outlooks and story points as, like the older man getting together with the young ingénue plotline he’s done many a time, it’s starting to become a tad repetitive.

What is admirable is his love for the 1920s. The classic oldie playing over his trademark opening titles is expected, but he does a nice job of transporting the audience back to that decade. The Swinging Twenties sounds like one of the most fun times in history and his admiration for the period is definitely infectious. In a way, Allen seems more in place in that decade than in modern-day New York City. This era in history is not only charming, but allows him to indulge in his nostalgic fantasies without coming across as off-putting. It does lack the travelogue feeling of his other Europe-set films, but after extensively exploring France already, that’s hardly a negative. It certainly shows Allen is willing to travel beyond the famous tourist-populated cities. There’s a great photographic quality to the look of his period pieces and while Magic in the Moonlight lacks the emotional and happy tone of The Purple Rose of Cairo, one of his best pictures, one cannot help but feel like Owen Wilson’s excited writer Gil from Midnight in Paris whenever he takes the viewer back in time.

Magic in the Moonlight is lesser Woody Allen, despite its pleasantries. Usually, even in his worst, there’s something memorable. However, this is not likely to stay in a lot of minds after a week and won’t inspire the sort of ongoing thematic discussions of his best work. There’s something strangely ordinary about the film despite the beauty of its setting. Emma Stone does have the makings of a great new leading lady for Allen and hopefully, he has stronger material to give her in later collaborations. However, with the rate at which he makes his movies, there’s probably a better one just around the corner.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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