This Woody Allen production that he wrote and directed has a plot that readers of this blog will be able to easily relate to. It is 1928 and Colin Firth plays a famous magician and illusionist who also has a second career as a debunker of all those who claim to be mediums who can talk to the dead or other supernatural powers. He is a total materialist and rationalist and has never failed to expose anyone who came under his investigative gaze. Think of James Randi but even more so.
A magician friend comes to him about a young woman (Emma Stone) who seems to have the most amazing ability to know all about the people she meets and also communicate with the dead. She has defeated his friend’s attempts to expose her and he asks for Firth’s help in finding out how she does it. The film deals with Firth’s attempt to do so. Incidentally, Eileen Atkins plays Firth’s aunt Vanessa. Fans of the British TV show Doc Martin will recognize her as Martin Ellingham’s psychologist aunt Ruth and she plays pretty much the same character here, a wry foil to her nephew’s dogmatic certainty and ability to antagonize people with his attitude.
While the film was enjoyable as a romantic comedy, I think that Firth’s character was a little too much of a stereotype of the arrogant atheist who is certain that he is right, conceited about his own intelligence, angered by psychic frauds who take advantage of the gullibility of people, and openly contemptuous of those who fall for such things. The exchanges between Firth and those who want to believe that they can talk to the dead and that there is a spiritual realm that science cannot explain seemed a little too simplistic, but that may be my fault as someone who is very familiar with the nuances of this debate.
The main problem with the film was that the denouement occurred about 75 minutes into it and the last 20 minutes were too long for the coda where the film wraps things up. But all in all it was a pleasant 95 minutes.
Here’s the trailer.