I held back from saying it after Jersey Boys for fear of sounding ageist. But if the great Clint Eastwood had not on that occasion made the movie of an old man, then the revered (and by some reviled) Woody Allen has most certainly done so with this sweet and flowery waffle.
We are all familiar with Allen’s obsessions, the major one of which is death and his neurotic fear of it – he has made a career of exposing and exploring its non-negotiable certainty.
Generally speaking, however, artists are more successful at teasing out life’s more profound questions when they stick to their practised medium.
Their attempts at outright philosophy are clunky at best.
Stanley (Colin Firth) is little more than the director’s alter-ego. A magician of renown with a brilliant history as an entertainer (like Allen), he is the ultimate pragmatist who, though he might ardently wish for there to be an afterlife, has taken pride in demolishing those charlatans who claim to have evidence of it.
Sophie (Emma Stone) is an ingénue from the US midwest who is making a name for herself as a spiritualist among the odiously rich of the Côte d’Azur.
Unable to resist a debunking, Stanley is enticed by Howard (Simon McBirney), a fellow illusionist, to travel to France and expose Sophie as the fake that she surely must be.
The dialogue between the two antagonists is gauche and the tiresome predictability of a romance smouldering between them (younger women find older men irresistible in Allen’s world) is hampered by the couple’s complete lack of chemistry.
Admittedly, the location is gorgeous, but escapist eye-candy only serves to fill the cracks of an over-simplistic script.
It’s gratifying to see ‘our’ Jacki Weaver doing so well for herself, but Firth is atypically wooden and Stone half-hearted.
Hearing the refrain of Cole Porter’s You Do Something To Me for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that Allen has made what is in essence a pleasant little radio play with pictures.
~ John Campbell