The phrase Written and directed by Woody Allen has become something of a warning sign, but his latest film Magic in the Moonlight has the well chosen and lushly photographed French Riviera as a backdrop and does something to allay the nagging question that often accompanies watching an Allen movie. Viz, How has he managed to get funding again?
Of course there’s the usual Allen disparity in age between the two leads. Pompous and superior Belgravia-living Stanley Crawford is played by 54 year old Colin Firth. A successful magician who has exposed fake mediums in the past, he is asked by a friend to help expose a young American mystic called Sophie Baker. She and her mother are preying on rich old ladies in the South of France. Though played by 25 year old Emma Stone there is no doubt that despite his scepticism Stanley will fall for Sophie rather than the mother.
Stanley heads off to France certain he will spot the fakery, planning also to visit his old aunt who just happens to live nearby. Hamish Linklater plays Brice, a besotted millionaire learning ukulele songs with which to serenade Sophie. The Riviera sparkles, the characters party and vintage cars shoot between opulent locations. Languid Côte d’Azur scenes are linked with period music.
Allen has created an investigation into happiness. Are we better off knowing the truth or should we grab at illusions that make us happy? The problem is we know that the seances are nonsense and that Stanley’s views – though delivered by a misanthropic character – are right. Stanley is polite but unpleasant and the character is only carried by Firth’s charm.
Allen lumps religion in with mysticism, which is to confuse and paint with too broad a brush. However Magic in the Moonlight benefits from the attractive clothes, furnishings and accessories of the Twenties and is a good-looking picture.