Woody Allen’s latest oddly bears a lot in common thematically with the short film ‘A Most Complex Form of Ventriloquism‘ (it’s not outwith the realm of possibility that he viewed the film and was influenced by it – I believe it played in at least one festival in the States), set as it is in the 1920’s and focusing on Colin Firth’s Stanley Crawford, a notable stage magician with an equally infamous acerbic wit and sarcastic/pessimistic view on life, who is requested by an old colleague (Simon McBurney) to attempt to debunk Emma Stone’s alarmingly adept and attractive young Sophie Baker, who seems in possession of the gift of second sight – but is she the real McCoy?
Unfortunately, we can tell very quickly how things will unfold and there is nothing especially meritorious about the inevitable and arguably unfounded romance between the leads that develops, as Sophie manages to squeeze out some youthful vitality and hope that there could be an afterlife from Stanley. Firth is a natural at playing the gentleman and Stone equally so the ebullient Sophie, but the wit Stanley displays is more akin to that which people politely get used to and ignore rather than laugh at directly or under their breath and as such the comedy element falls decidedly dead. If you are in any way familiar with Woody Allen then you can unfurl the plot in two seconds, and we see not only the familiar motives from his work that also drew him to that of Ingmar Bergman, such as his fear of and obsession with death (indeed, it is most likely Bergman’s 1958 classic ‘The Magician’ played a role in coming up with this film), but also perhaps less muted shades of his own personal life as we see an older and successful male become victoriously infatuated with a much younger female. The set design and costumes are wonderful, but the lacking human connection and story leave the whole thing feeling stilted, like a sad ornament overly polished out of sheer boredom.