It’s difficult to dislike Woody Allen’s latest divertissement. With attractive people
engaged in amusing repartee, beautiful 1920s clothes, and the South of France
as a breathtaking backdrop, Magic in the
Moonlight has an abundance of eye candy and charm. It isn’t one of Allen’s
best, and I’ll admit there is an air of contrivance about it, but it’s a
refreshing change from most of the summer fare—like a cool drink on a hot day.
Colin Firth plays a master stage magician with an outsized
ego. His boyhood pal (and fellow illusionist) Simon McBurney asks his help to expose
a young woman whose sham séances and psychic messages have duped a family of
wealthy Americans. Firth relishes the task, until he meets the “phony” (Emma
Stone) and finds himself falling under her spell.
Allen has concocted an elegant charade that doesn’t purport
to be anything else. None of the characters could be described as truly
believable. The philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and the
possibility of a spirit world are superficial at best. And I could easily find
other nits to pick: Firth is an able farceur but he plays this part rather
strenuously, in contrast to Stone’s lighter-than-air approach. The able
supporting cast (including Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki
Weaver) is left in the dust with one-dimensional roles, and easily eclipsed by Eileen
Atkins, as Firth’s favorite aunt. This formidable British actress dominates a
crucial, climactic scene that could serve as a master class in acting…and
Even Allen’s beloved 1920s music (which I love, too) becomes
tedious at times, as he repeats certain vintage recordings over and over again.
I enjoyed the experience of watching Magic in the Moonlight, and I smile now as I think about it. That’s
no small accomplishment for any film.