Thursday 25 September 2014

Review: Magic in The Moonlight

World of Blackout Film Review

Magic In The Moonlight Poster

Magic In The Moonlight
Cert: 12A / 98 mins / Dir. Woody Allen
WoB Rating: 6/7

Woody Allen's new film serves as the perfect lesson as to how subjective (not to mention divisive) his work can be, particularly as I wasn't overly enamoured with last year's Blue Jasmine. Set in 1928, Magic In The Moonlight sees Colin Firth star as Stanley Crawford, a rationalist debunker of parlour-occultists with a tidy sideline in stage-magic (under the disguise and pseudonym of Wei Ling Soo); essentially fooling the public with one hand whilst handing them the truth on a plate with the other. His character's justification of this is that the audiences at his shows know they're seeing illusions, whereas the mediums and spiritualists of the world are desperate to keep their fee-paying customers believing that what they're seeing is the truth. Stanley's world is gradually eased into turmoil when he is called upon to investigate the apparent skills of Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a gifted medium and prognisticator, and he draws more and more blanks as she appears to display genuine psychic abilities. Worse still, these polar-opposites get on far, far better than either of them would have predicted…

So. I loved the film, and it's thanks in no small part to Colin Firth. His portrayal of a belligerent perfectionist is marvellous and does full justice to Woody Allen's acid script, with his facetiousness coming over in a way which even Allen himself would struggle to deliver. Sadly, Allen's direction of the British cast is nowhere near as naturalistic as his screenplay. The performers make it work, but things often feel exaggerated way past their comfortable levels. On top of this, the first act of the film in particular seems oddly rushed, full of unsmoked cigarettes and drinks set down undrunk, although Firth's finest character-building also occurs during this act.

Once the scene is set in the South of France and the story can relax to a more leisurely pace, Firth and Stone have a great, hesitant chemistry, and sharply comic turns are provided by Eileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater and Simon McBurney. While the film settles comfortably into the routine of an Art Deco inspired comedy, the main plot thread about Psychic Sophie was the hook for me, unerplayed to perfection by Stone, who seems oddly at home in the 1920s. This in fact is the key to the movie's main strength; all of Allen's characters look, act and feel like they belong there, so while the story twists, weaves and contorts is way through a restrained romantic comedy, I could at least believe in it for its 98 minutes. Which is all I ask of a film.

The in-film music (ie, the songs heard/played by the characters) works very well, but the film features the occasional classical piece overlaid, which can feel a little overblown given the delicate nature of the story. Oh, and speaking of music, the party-scene uses the same recording of The Charleston which used to head up episodes of The Gentleman's Review, leaving me waiting for the machine-gun to come in. Alas, I was disappointed. Woody Allen not a TGR fan, apparently.

Best exchange: "May I have your autograph?" - "Autographs are for mental defectives."

Magic In The Moonlight is a charming, sincere and witty love story for our cynical times which succeeds by not being set in our clinical times. Fussy and meticulous, but thoroughly charming, like a very sarcastic episode of Hustle, written by Agatha Christie.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Not really. By having to explain the plot, the trailer's cut far too fast for the lingering sarcasm of the humour to really work. Film > Trailer.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
I did.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
For me yes, although your mileage will vary and I know the critics are mixed over this one.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
If you're a Woody Allen fan, cinema. For everyone else, this should be fine for renting when it's released.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not really.

Will I watch it again?
I will.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
There isn't. It's like they've gone out of fashion, or something.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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