I always approach Woody Allen films without Woody Allen acting in them with an air of caution, expecting them to be not really as enjoyable as if he were present in front of the camera. I guess I'll have to get used to it now, however, as he declares himself the wrong age to carry off the roles.
Be not disheartened though, as he usually provides us with a finely honed replacement to read his lines. 'Celebrity' offered us Kenneth Branagh, method-acted to clinical perfection, 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' gave us Josh Brolin and so on. Various actors have carried it off to different degrees of success but none so beautifully as Larry David in 'Whatever Works'. He was made for the neurotic, disillusioned, paranoid, sceptical Woody role!
Here, we're offered Colin Firth. Straight from the posh Brit act camp populated by the likes of Hugh Grant, Jude Law et al. I hadn't realised until now quite just how spookily 'John Cleese/Michael Palin' Firth is. They just have to be related! I do think that we have now moved away from the 'emulation' model now and into an area where these actors are encouraged to, well, maybe not be quite so 'Woody'!
So the usual complex Woody tale of love triangle, class struggle, life lessons and complicated human relationships ensues with the backdrop once again being centred in or around showbiz, theatre and performance. Here again (remember Scoop in 2006?), a magician is centre-stage in 1920's Berlin and this time is whisked off to the South of France via London to expose an alleged fraudster making her fortune from being a Medium to those with money. Our scientific hero, who believes in nothing that isn't in front of his nose and provable heads off with glee to uncover the scam.
The Medium is charmingly played by Emma Stone and provides the 'across the pond' angle that Woody always injects, placing Yanks with Brits together in front of the lens. And so the challenge begins, racing through the story with the usual sharp wit, one-liners and engaging dialogue. An enjoyable yarn, well executed, and although Firth still feels pretty much in the typecast posh Brit role again, his performance is enjoyable and one which is warmed to.
The set, 1920's European theatreland, restaurants and monied domestic settings, is beautifully atmospheric and the photography executed with the usual interesting use of broad panning (especially in France) with some lovely shallow focus long shots in crowds, the camerawork aiding the growing atmosphere.
You'll either love Allen's product delivery or hate it, I guess. Fortunately I'm in the former camp and enjoy every minute. I can't think of a Woody Allen film that I have not enjoyed and this adds to the very long list. At 80, he's been conjuring up a film a year for almost 50 years, which really is some feat. I will be keen to see the more recent releases, 'Irrational Man' and 'Cafe Society', to keep me up to date. But for now, 'Magic in the Moonlight' is highly recommended.
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