Magic in the Moonlight – Woody Allen slowly losing his magic. (Film Review)
Woody Allen’s films are hit and miss, with his hits being little gems and his misses being endured for the sake of the hits. Sometimes he can make a truly brilliant heavy-weight film (Husbands and Wives) but then he can also make something superb out of light-weight fluff (Midnight in Paris). Sometimes his gems are slice of his own life (Annie Hall) and sometimes they are blatant copies of well known films, books or plays that he still finds a way to make his own (Blue Jasmine). Sometimes his comedy is inspired (Broadway Danny Rose) and sometimes it is in such poor taste no one should ever have to see the film again (Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were too Afraid To Ask). He’s been very lucky in many ways, one of which is by having no real competition – the more films I see the more I am convinced the American Film Industry is overrated – and perhaps his passion for New York has a lot to do with it, given he is Jewish. After all, New York is the famously open mind of the States, and it might have been as much a source of protection as a creative haven. But what do I know? I’m just one of the millions of people who both like and dislike his films, who is being forced to work out how I feel about Woody Allen, because the one consistency in every Woody Allen film is his use of the audience as confessor and exonerator.
And so we come to Magic in the Moonlight, a film about a young woman whose claims threaten to destroy the career of a much older man who calls her liar, and who feels that her rightful place is under him in bed. It’s really tricky to ignore what this might be all about, because despite Allen’s passion for Freud, there is no sublimation going on here. It is a blatant call for clemency, like so many Allen has made before in so many of his films, and despite all the impassioned feelings about “Dylan-gate” one is not thrust into these places of judgement by the claims of Woody Allen’s daughter, we are thrust into them by Allen himself. It’s Allen who painted Mia Farrow as saint in Hannah and her Sisters and super villain in Husbands and Wives, Allen’s character who declared his favourite sex fantasy was to force his Jewish Wife to eat pork in Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex (not to mention a scene when boy scouts pack rape a woman) and Allen who kept placing surrogate selves as leading romantic males when some kind soul (we presume, because its tough to imagine he might work this out himself) finally told him he was too old to be convincingly seducing much younger women. The excuses for Woody Allen seem as enduring and endless as his films.
So how are we to judge this latest offering? Ignoring the “hype” and just “enjoying” his films isn’t possible, because Allen thrusts so much demand for absolution in your face, that you eventually have to approach his films with a passion for all he has been in the past, and a desire to not lose that forever. If Woody Allen is not forgiven, does that mean we can’t enjoy his films anymore? I can’t face a future with no Woody Allen films, so therefore he must be innocent, despite his overwhelming need for me to tell him that over and over and over again. How do I judge the quality of Magic in the Moonlight, when to speak about it with faux rationality (examine the film on its merits alone) is impossible because Allen makes such an obvious reference to his personal problems? One feels a little like an inventor of a great farming gadget that you find is being used as first grade weaponry in the Middle East. I don’t intend to exonerate a criminal when I go to a Woody Allen film, but when it becomes obvious that I might be doing that, what am I supposed to do? Particularly when boycotting his films feels a lot like I will only be hurting myself.
Fortunately, Magic in the Moonlight isn’t a great film. It makes some lame reaches for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and of course casts Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) in the lead, who fortunately for us doesn’t do a great Woody Allen impersonation (at least not as good as Owen Wilson) despite the Allen-esque dialogue, which in Firths hands often feels overwritten. The plotting is clumsey and as predictable as Wei Ling Soo’s magic tricks, which unfortunately leaves us with little distraction as to the personal agenda of Allen – unlike Husbands and Wives which was so good you could (almost) forgive the overt betrayal of Mia Farrow. Costume and setting are both beautiful, but there seems to be a wasted opportunity for more of Allen’s passion for music from the era in which the film is set to come to the fore. Midnight in Paris made great use of the music of the time, but it’s missing from Magic in the Moonlight, particularly when we know one of Allen’s great strengths is his talent for music placement in films. It should be stated that Eileen Atkins is luminous – there is always a woman Allen directs brilliantly, and Atkins’ Aunt Vanessa lights up the screen every time she on it. Emma Stone is OK, and Colin firth is OK, though lacking in chemistry with each other – but that’s OK, because there is plenty for them with other characters.
On the whole, its one of those Allen films that falls comfortably between hit and miss, not really being either. But then the question about Woody Allen is how much longer can we all go on doing this dance where he insists on forcing us to side with him on all his personal issues, since it seems impossible for him to leave them out.