Despite the most recent accusations against him, New York-based veteran director Woody Allen is producing film after film as part of his city-themed project. Leaving San Francisco, the setting of his recent film Blue Jasmine (2013), Allen returns to Europe where his latest film Magic in the Moonlight (2014) is set, this time on the French Riviera. Featuring another ensemble cast including Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hollywood’s latest IT girl/ingenue Emma Stone, Allen has given little away in terms of the plot, though Sony Pictures Classics described the film as focusing on ‘an Englishman brought in to help unmask a possible swindle [and] personal and professional complications ensue.’ Meanwhile, Allen stated to the LA Times: ‘It’s a romantic comedy set in the South of France in the 1920s.’ The film is also said to be set ‘against a backdrop of wealthy mansions, the Côte d’Azur, jazz joints and fashionable spots for the wealthy of the Jazz Age.’ Thus Allen is returning to the successful formula delivered in his hugely popular Midnight in Paris (2011), suggesting that the Jazz Age of the 1920s seems to be where Allen feels safest these days (as opposed to his New York-based films in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, including Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Radio Days (1987), New York Stories (1989) and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)). This also shows how the 1920s Jazz Age is gaining renewed significance with film audiences, with agonisingly ostentatious director Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby testament to the popularity of the era.
Allen’s latest obsession with cinematic tourism, from London (Match Point), Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Rome (To Rome with Love), Paris (Midnight in Paris), San Francisco (Blue Jasmine) and now to the French Riviera for Moonlight runs the risk of becoming nothing more than mere gimmick; the desire to romanticise certain cities seems to be running away with Allen. The best of this particular stream of movies is arguably Midnight in Paris, whose focus on nostalgia and the Golden Age of art, literature and music was a poignant theme for many avid film-goers. With witty dialogue and an exciting, humorous premise, the film became an unprecedented success, while others, including To Rome with Love and the New York-based Whatever Works (2009), were lamentably lacklustre in terms of themes and dialogue, poorly reiterating many of the themes that Allen had already perfected in previous films. The greatness of Midnight was its effortlessness and simplicity underneath the magic of time travel. Magic in the Moonlight, which is set to be released mid 2014 (in the US), has the potential to either re-establish Allen’s talent with the touristic genre, bringing back the magic that worked so well for Midnight in Paris, or confirm that it may be best for Allen to move onto something else.