Cinema review: Magic in the Moonlight

When you get a filmmaker who’s hell-bent on churning out a new movie each year, inevitably some are going to feel a tad lightweight.

Magic in the Moonlight, remarkably Woody Allen’s 49th directorial credit, is lacking in some fairly critical aspects, yet it possesses plenty of playful charm and is eminently watchable.

Set in the late 1920s jazz age, we’re first introduced to Oriental sorcerer Wei Ling Soo, the world-famous stage persona of cantankerous illusionist Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth).

Backstage, while removing his bald cap and fake Fu Manchu, Stanley is convinced by an old schoolmate to travel to the South of France to debunk an alleged clairvoyant, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone). Paying her way are the Catledges, a wealthy American family who have been taken in by her ability to communicate with their recently-deceased patriarch.

Packed into only 97 minutes, at times Magic in the Moonlight feels rushed. Stanley’s transformation from staunchly rational curmudgeon to wide-eyed believer is a touch quick, undermining the premise of his character.

And too many scenes meander aimlessly before fizzling out, sometimes ending on bizarre non-sequiturs. The audience is left with the feeling that a few more of Allen’s trademark one-liners would’ve given the film much more bite.


Magic in the Moonlight is now showing at Cornerhouse in Manchester. For more information click here


Most disappointingly, the central pair lack any real chemistry. Sophie, sharp and vivacious, is the archetypal screwball comedy lead, whereas Stanley comes off pompous and conceited. The best chat-up line he can muster is ‘You do have agreeable features’. The two never really click.

Having said that, Magic in the Moonlight is a rewarding experience for true Woody Allen devotees. It’s full to the brim with nods to the 78-year-old’s back catalogue, and his fingerprints are all over the film’s sharper moments.

There’s a scene midway through in which Firth and Stone, caught in a flash rainstorm, run for cover to a nearby observatory, prompting the first instance of palpable romantic tension. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s eerily reminiscent of a scene in 1979’s Manhattan, in which Allen and Diane Keaton take refuge in a planetarium.

Firth’s snappier one-liners are vintage Allen, so much so that you could imagine them coming straight from one of his iconic 1950s’ comedy albums.

“I’ve always thought the unseen world would be a great place to open a restaurant,” Firth remarks. “After all, the spirits have to eat.”

And later in the film, as Firth and Stone admire a gorgeous seaside vista, she remarks “It’s beautiful,” to which comes the reply: “It’s transient.”

There are even moments when Allen works in some iconic themes, including his own brand of intensely neurotic existentialism. We’re told by Stanley’s elderly aunt that even as a youngster ‘the local priest always said he was the only boy in his class who was bound for hell’.

Magic in the Moonlight might not be a classic, but these days most of Allen’s films should be taken for what they are: flawed yet enjoyable romps. And hey, at least there’ll be another one next year.

Magic in the Moonlight is now showing at Cornerhouse in Manchester. For more information click here

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