Is Colin Firth still sexy? Like, I could somewhat (barely) understand the appeal in and around the Pride and Prejudice-era, but anything post-Bridget Jones, like… unless you’re over the age of 65. Hell, he LOOKS like someone’s nana to me. Which is partly why, settling in to Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen’s 45th film, I went in resisting any submission to chemistry or romance between the two leads. I’m sure the director’s rap-sheet didn’t help matters much.
Honestly, aside from the obvious, glaring abominations committed by Woody Allen during his publicly-personal life over the course of his career, the fact that such perversities taint any and everything he makes now is fairly depressing. There are a handful of his films that are truly great and contain some striking performances (Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, to name the majority) but since all this gross shit has come to light, it’s hard not to take in one of his films without feeling fairly impervious to the idea of perhaps enjoying it. Most often though, you won’t enjoy it no matter what preconceived notions you have and Magic in the Moonlight is a terrific example.
The plot unfurls suchly: Set mainly in the south of France in 1928, Colin Firth plays a famous asshole magician who’s written like an early ancestor of Richard Dawkins (skeptic, atheistic, completely unsexual) and who’s asked by a magician colleague to debunk a young American medium (Emma Stone, whose skin is like dewy, alabaster nubuck) who may or may not be trying to swindle a rich family. It all comes down to his doddery resistance to her spiritual, optimistic whimsy and their first meeting is fraught with the kind of lukewarm tension that you might feel in a school presentation about peer pressure. The stakes are so staggeringly low with this will-they-or-won’t-they framework and the whole thing feels like an old man’s wet dream: a room-temperature bowl of rice pudding before bed. Said old man also passes out contentedly before even discovering the conclusion of this film because it doesn’t even fucking matter.
The most tense, suspense-filled aspect of this movie was waiting and wondering when Colin Firth’s old witch-mouth would clamp onto Emma Stone’s poor face. Spoiler alert: Yes, this does happen.
I always wonder why young actresses choose to work with Allen. I mean, it’s a big ol’ paycheque, sure, and he still has an inordinate amount of artistic and commercial respect in the industry. Perhaps that’s enough? I mean, in a strong, character-driven film about adults trying hard in their way to be adults (e.g. Blue Jasmine) I can mostly understand the justification, but in a film about a man, well over 50, becoming attracted to and pursuing a young woman (especially since she’s a very capable, strong actress) in the most unappealing, paternalistic way possible… Emma Stone, why?
Also, Marcia Gay Harden (as Stone’s stage-mom) is criminally underused. And the sunsetted driving scenes are admittedly EXTREMELY gorgeous.