By Ron Merk
When we think of magic and moonlight, we think of an enchanted evening when one sees a stranger from across the room, and falls in love. If only that was the case with Woody Allen’s new film, “Magic in the Moonlight. But I’m sorry to say, that it not.
But I want to be kind, because there is always something good about a Woody Allen film, even when the film is a misfire. Allen is a great filmmaker with a long history of producing important and often touching and funny films. But his winning streak in the hit department seems to have petered out some time ago. And yet, there are moments in this film that are fascinating in their use of the English language, and I think the film wanted to be much more of a comedy than a film about the human condition. Unfortunately, the latter won out, and the humans are not in great condition.
What should have been a souffle of comedy and human frailty turned out more like an omelette of broken eggs (and characters’ hopes and dashed expectations of life). It’s somewhat happy ending really sounded a false note for me, but I won’t be a spoiler and say if I really think it’s a happy ending for the characters.
I think the fault of this film lies in its stars, by that I mean in the casting. Colin Firth is a magnificent actor, very much like Lawrence Olivier, but he lacks warmth in many of his roles. He’s shines brilliantly like a diamond. He can act everyone else off the screen, but in the end, he’s there alone and you wonder why. I know nothing about him personally, so please don’t mistake this for a personal criticism. It’s just how I relate to Firth when I see him on screen. There are very few characters he’s portrayed that I would want to spend time with if they were real people. The character he plays in this film, except for his intelligence and wit, just is not the stuff that dreams (in the moonlight or elsewhere) can be made of. He’s a snob, totally self-absorbed, and doesn’t see much value in other people. He sees no real hope in life, and just chugs along, dispensing his rather selfish idea of bon mots laced with personal vitriol, and calling that LIFE.
The rest of the cast, while quite good at what they do, had the same effect on me, particularly Emma Stone, who I found quite annoying, and not the charmer that all the other characters apparently were seeing. While the supporting cast was quite professional, I also had this gnawing feeling that they were the B-team that Allen had assembled from a casting wish list for which the A-list supporting players were simply busy elsewhere doing better scripts. I have no specific evidence of this, but it is how the film affected me, so it’s just my theory.
In this film’s script, there are many great lines of dialog spouted by Firth’s character, many of them hysterically funny, and eliciting laughs from the audience, but many of them leaving us wondering if or when we should laugh. Therein lies the rub. Was it social commentary or a comedy? Fish or foul. I won’t make a joke about foul, I promise. But if it doesn’t jell, it’s not aspic, something these rich snobby characters would probably have on their luncheon menu.
One can ask if Allen has simply run out of gas as a creator, but keeps going, like a shark that needs to swim or die. Do audiences keep going back to his films simply because they need the eggs from our crazy Uncle Woody who thinks he’s still a chicken laying golden eggs, and will we keep waiting for one of them to turn to gold again, like in the good old days of Allen’s work?
Maybe Allen needs to take some time off and just rest. To keep making films that only half work only damages his earlier stellar reputation. There are just so many good books, paintings or films in any artist, and when the well runs dry, well, that’s the time to rest on one’s well-deserved laurels and fade away. Is that Allen’s fate? Or does he still have something pertinent to say in a wonderfully clever way?
What this film needed was more magic, and yes, definitely more moonlight that ethereal ambiance where anything is possible. If I could have brought myself to identify with even one of the characters, maybe that would have saved the film for me. But the characters, without exception, were all somewhat selfish, creepy or self-absorbed. I left the screening feeling as if they had robbed me of two hours of my time, time that would have been better spent going for a walk on the beautiful day on which I saw the film. Time to look at the sky, and to wait for that magic and moonlight the film’s title promised to finally materialize.