Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 2014)

Interesting fact – Woody Allen has directed and written a new feature film every year since 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. And that break – that one year break – was well deserved. Between 1972 and 1980 he managed eight feature films in a purple patch of creativity that included Manhatten, Bananas, Annie Hall, Sleeper and Love and Death. This industrious approach to churning out films from the Woody Allen cinema factory of course means that some releases are better received than others. Going to see his latest film doesn’t seem to guarantee you’ll see a great film.

In recent years, though, he has had a critical and commercial renaissance, which started with 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, and he has been introduced to a whole generation of cinema-goers. Indeed, watching his recent films they all seem to be of the same universe. The fonts and designs used for the title sequences are always identical (though admittedly he has used the same Windsor font for around forty years now). The music is of a similar style, albeit usually stylised to the area in which the film is set. The locations have tended towards beautiful, luxurious areas of famous European cities with histories rich in romance, barring 2009’s Whatever Works and last year’s hugely successful Blue Jasmine. It’s almost like Woody Allen is using his films to enjoy these beauty hotspots.

So, whilst seeing Woody Allen’s latest might not guarantee you’ll see a great film, it will guarantee you’ll see a quintessentially Allenesque film, one you will immediately recognise as belonging to this most unique of directors.

And so it is with his latest.

Magic In The Moonlight stars British heavyweight Colin Firth and relative newcomer Emma Stone, both of whom are highly gifted and currently very sought-after actors. The story centres around Firth’s Stanley Crawford, a world-renowned magician whom we join as he journeys to the French Riviera to witness and debunk Stone’s Sophie Baker, a self-professed spiritual medium who Stanley is sure is as fake as the rest of her peers.

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Firth plays the stubborn Stanley perfectly. The character is a dislikeable person, one we see slowly fall for a girl many years his minor but refusing to admit it, doubly bad as he has a fiancé-in-waiting back home. Even when Sophie starts to show feelings for him, he rebukes her in the most insulting of manners. Firth is an inherently likeable person so that he pulls this is off so well is to be admired. Emma Stone, too, is brilliant in playing a seemingly innocent girl with an extraordinary gift. The play between these two highly talented actors is something to behold. Throw into the mix a fantastic support cast including Eileen Atkins and Simon McBurney, some beautiful scenery and a well-crafted script and you have another excellent entry into the Allen catalogue.

In many ways, I do wonder what the enduring fascination with Allen is. Especially in the UK where, in light of Operation Yewtree and a seemingly never ending chain of accusations and court cases against the stars of yesteryear, any kind of indecent relationship will be dragged through the press. It seems decidedly odd that Woody Allen’s popularity remains completely intact. There doesn’t seem to be any resolution on the horizon for his ongoing feud with Dylan Farrow, his adoptive daughter, who claims she was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. It seems bizarre that so many renowned actors would flock to be involved with his work with this hanging over his legacy. Yes, I understand that we should treat people as innocent until proven guilty, but that is frankly not the society we live in, where often trial by media is the preferred route. I don’t truly believe that these films are so good they overpower his potential loss of reputation if these allegations were true. Perhaps it’s just that his reputation as an excellent director precedes him and people are desperate to work with him as he sits in the twilight of his career. Who could turn down the opportunity to work with a bonafide legend of cinema?

So, is Magic in the Moonlight as good as Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine? Probably not. But it is a uniquely Allenesque picture and one that certainly won’t go down in the future as a flop; yet another water tight story told brilliant by one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.

Magic in the Moonlight is on release at selected cinemas in the UK now.

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