Though Woody Allen is a controversial figure in Hollywood these days, it’s hard to dispute that he is one of the most prolific filmmakers working today. His old-fashioned sensibilities have led him to make one film a year for forty-four years, many of which are quite good and don’t require the type of immense budgets that franchise-spawning blockbusters require. Allen even made one of the best films of 2013, Blue Jasmine, a fantastic feminist piece that was made all the more tragic in light of its creator’s own alleged proclivities toward abuse and molestation. And now, as a follow-up, Allen has made perhaps one of the most egotistic and self-justifying pieces of his career, part response to the accusations against him, part shallow, aimless romance.
In the 1920s, Stanley Crawford, a renowned illusionist played by Colin Firth, receives a visit from an old friend who tells him of a mystic who is in dire need of debunking. Stanley takes great joy in exposing fraud spiritualists, and so leaves with his friend to expose a young woman who is swindling a family into thinking their dead patriarch can communicate to them through séance. That young woman is named Sophie, and played by Emma Stone, and as Stanley and Sophie begin to banter back and forth, two things start to happen. One is that Stanley begins to doubt his pessimistic and rational view of the world in light of Sophie’s apparently wondrous telepathic skills; the other is that a chemistry starts to develop between the two leads in classic romantic style.
It is worth noting that Firth and Stone do a fantastic job with the roles given to them, finding a chemistry that works despite the film’s often predictable and clichéd script. This is a testament to the talent both performers have, considering how dull this film could have been without them. The romantic plot is obvious from the moment the two leads lay eyes on each other, and it is clearly only a matter of time before she is exposed as a fraud and he decides he doesn’t care because he has discovered the ability to love. It all feels very trite, and it is an unwelcome departure from Woody Allen’s generally more cerebral offerings.
And it is also worth noting just how much this film feels like an autobiographical excuse for Allen’s tendency to date and marry women much younger than himself. Now, I don’t know Woody Allen, and I recognize that age does not need to be a prohibitive factor when founding a relationship, but this film feels very much like Allen making a self-justified stand that relationships between people with large age gaps are not subject to scrutiny. There’s a certain amount of aloof perfection to Stanley’s character that seems to mirror Allen’s own self-avowed perception, with some of the more obnoxious flaws mildly accentuated for romantic tension’s sake. And Sophie is little more than a waif, in dire need of the guidance this wiser, older man can offer her. This feels like a shallow and sexist justification for Allen’s own history of romancing younger women and is played off as a match made in heaven without any character questioning it. Part of this is due to the film’s chronological setting, but it was also made with modern audiences in mind, making this kind of theme questionable at best.
I did not enjoy Magic In The Moonlight. It is way below the standards that one generally expects from Woody Allen, and it feels like such a blatant attempt at public image repair that it distracts from the lackluster love story that is ostensibly the main focus. If you want a recent Woody Allen flick, go watch Blue Jasmine. Whereas that was a high for the prolific director’s career, this film is a new low.
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