Don't give up on Woody yet
Magic in the Moonlight (12a)
Running time 97 mins
Review rating ****
It must be a great comfort to older people to watch someone such as Woody Allen – now rapidly approaching his 80th birthday – continue to work hard, be creative, stay sharp and cause trouble.
Throughout his life, the feisty little New Yorker has entertained, and occasionally appalled, people with his mastery of the film form, creating such gems as Annie Hall, Manhattan and Sleeper, and gathering Oscars and Baftas along the way.
His latest creation is Magic in the Moonlight, which he wrote and directed. It’s a gentle rom-com, with solid performances from Colin Firth, a wide-eyed Emma Stone, and a clutch of supporting actors that bring a pleasant film to life.
Now it may appear that using words such as ‘pleasant’ and ‘gentle’ is the precursor to a rant about how to waste 97 minutes of unrecoverable time in an empty cinema with no refreshments.
But it’s not, because in this instance, these are good words about a film that is as warm and comforting as a duvet on a Sunday morning.
Magic in the Moonlight could have been written by Noel Coward and acted by an elegant and sharp-tongued Cary Grant. However, this isn’t a screwball comedy of the 1950s, although if you forget the faces and listen to the rhythm of the dialogue and the gentle unfolding of the narrative, you could imagine yourself back in those cinematic halcyon days.
It’s the story of a 1920s magician, Stanley (Firth), who is summoned by a friend to unmask a fake clairvoyant who has attached herself to a rich American family staying on the French Riviera, prior to bleeding them dry, it is feared.
The clairvoyant, Sophie (Stone), is pretty, slightly dreamy, and with the standard, hard-faced mother who is after the money. The problem is that Stanley can’t work out how the girl does what she does.
Gradually, he stops trying to unmask her and begins to think unworthy thoughts about undressing her (there is no sex whatsoever in the film, so don’t start panicking).
As in all good screwball comedies and confidence tricks, there is the hook to get the sucker hauled in, before the final reveal (the prestige) which leaves everyone gasping and applauding.
This is a well-constructed, nicely-acted, piece of classic Hollywood craft, using the talents of top actors who know exactly how to play the piece, and the light touch of a veteran director who loves to tell stories.
While this is unlikely to win more awards for Allen, and may not even create much of a ripple in the film world, it will leave audiences well entertained, knowing that they have been enriched a little.
It is also a good film because it does its enriching without the falling back on violence, nastiness, unnecessary crashes and bangs and rampant sex to deliver what’s required, quite a rare feat in itself these days.
It’s just the kind of film you will be seeing on a Sunday afternoon’s television in a few years – and that is not a bad thing either.