Magic in the Moonlight
My apologies if this review seems a little rushed. It kind of was...
It's been well-documented; the fact that Woody Allen makes a movie every year. Some people marvel at this feat, others wish some of his recent films would bake a little longer in the oven. Personally, I think Woody Allen is going through a sort of renaissance as a filmmaker. Some of his work in the 21st century, particularly in the early/mid-2000s were just bad. But movies like "Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" showed that the man still had a spark in him. He still had interesting stories to tell.
Since "Midnight in Paris," however, Woody Allen's movies seem to be connected in a way. "Paris", "To Rome With Love", "Blue Jasmine" and now "Magic in the Moonlight" are both obsessed with the inevitability of death and the necessity of finding a connection with someone to share your life with. "Magic," especially, seems keen on exploring the after-life and whether or not anything happens to us when we die. And it's when the movie explores these themes is when it's at its most interesting.
Unfortunately, an undercooked script, a few phoned-in performances (particularly by Colin Firth), and a completely ridiculous "almost ruins the movie"-type ending keeps "Magic" from reaching the heights of "Jasmine" and "Paris." Firth is just unconvincing as the mean, smug magician who spends most of the movie convinced Emma Stone's character is a fraud. When he suddenly has a change of heart, he's even less convincing! I usually like Colin Firth and it's been said that Woody Allen kinda lets actors do whatever they want. So, you can have someone like Cate Blanchett who came to "Blue Jasmine" bringing her A-game, but if an actor's not willing to put their all into a performance, then you get Colin Firth in "Magic in the Moonlight."
Emma Stone was not spectacular either, but she was still entertaining as the young woman who's convinced herself that she's really a clairvoyant. Firth manages to get through the film by his natural charisma and charm, but I just didn't buy his nastiness and I didn't buy his romance with Stone's character. This makes the all-too-predictable romantic ending feel especially shallow and forced.
But the film is wonderfully shot by Darius Khondji, who makes the South of France look like magic. There was one particular scene where Firth and Stone are walking through a flower garden and I could help but marvel at how green the greens were and how the colorful flowers just popped out on the screen. It once again demonstrated to me just how seductive a movie experience can be when it's shot in 35mm.
And I also liked where Woody Allen was going with the idea of this film. There was quite a bit of humor to be found here, thanks to Emma Stone's character, who once again proves that she's one the brightest young comic actresses working today. She's tried out sultry, seductive roles in "Gangster Squad" and has played the love interest in the "Amazing Spider-Man" movies, but she's at her best when she gets to show off her comedic chops. Hamish Linklater is also pretty entertaining as the man who's completely smitten by Stone, but his attempts to court her are so ridiculous and chessy. It's no wonder he can't hold onto her.
Is "Magic in the Moonlight" watchable? Oh yes. It just does not rank anywhere near Woody Allen's recent best. Some people called out the film for being too "light," but I think that's what keeps the film from being an outright misfire. There are bits and pieces of "Magic" that still makes me think that Allen is working at a high level, hopefully his next film with Joaquin Phoenix will be more fully-realized than this.