Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2014. Gravier Productions, Dippermouth Productions, Perdido Productions, Ske-Dat-De-Dat Productions, Cinéfrance 1888. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Cinematography by Darius Khondji. Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson. Production Design by Anne Seibel. Costume Design by Sonia Grande. Film Editing by Alisa Lepselter.
Woody Allen has such a good time lazing in the bright sunshine of the French Riviera that the pace slackens in this uninspiring romantic comedy. A highly successful 1920s stage conjurer (Colin Firth) is brought to the south of France by his colleague (Simon McBurney) to investigate a psychic (Emma Stone) who claims to be the real deal. Unmasking phonies has been Firth’s sideline for years, so he has nothing but the greatest confidence that he will find out what tricks this young woman uses to convince people that she can communicate with the dead and see into people’s minds. Stone and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden, criminally underused) are staying with a wealthy family headed by Jacki Weaver and her son Hamish Linklater, who is in love with the little mystic, and she is helping the matron communicate with her late husband in return for great financial rewards. Firth treats Stone with nothing but the snobbiest disdain until she starts touching on realities of his own life that convince him that she’s not a fake; the result is a change of heart and full-on twist in personality. Now that he can believe in actual magic, isn’t life so much more pleasant? Having a grip on reality is quite pointless if it means being miserably aware of the fecklessness of it all, so why not give into illusion since it is what gets us through our unhappy lives? This contemplation is an intelligent one (and the fact that it’s about an older man unmasking the lies of a younger woman is a wryly ironic one, given that it is the first of Allen’s movies to come out after the Dylan Farrow scandal), but unlike Midnight In Paris, where the thematic preoccupation backgrounded a delightful caprice peppered with rich characters and fun situations, this one’s more thoughtful moments do nothing for the tedious interplay of characters who walk among Allen’s ruminations. The maestro’s ability to make gorgeous period pieces continues to be a plus, and Stone does delicate and adorable better than you’d expect, but it is unmemorable and hardly worth the effort.