Say what you want about the man’s morally questionable private life, but when it comes to movies, Woody Allen only has good ones and disappointing ones, because even at their worst his films are still pretty watchable.
Sadly, I place Magic in the Moonlight in the disappointing category — though only relative to my high expectations. With a charming cast headed by Colin Firth and Emma Stone and an intriguing premise about magicians and psychics, I had been hoping for a magical experience (no pun intended) in the vein of Midnight in Paris, one of my faves from 2011. Woody was coming off the awesome Blue Jasmine in 2013, so I thought the momentum could carry over.
Alas, the romantic comedy never quite got there for me. It’s a sweet flick good enough to deliver a few laughs and enchanting moments, though it is also so slight and forgettable that it’s hard to place the movie anywhere but in the middle of the road in Woody Allen’s formidable filmography.
The film did hook me in straight away. Set in the late 1920s, the story is focused on a paranormal debunker named Stanley (Colin Firth), who earns his money in disguise as Wei Ling Soo, a world famous illusionist from the Orient. Stanley’s world is turned upside down when he meets a young clairvoyant and mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone), who begins to confound him with what appear to be genuine abilities.
Despite the age gap (what else did you expect from Woody?), the chemistry between Firth and Stone is fantastic, even though the latter doesn’t totally convince as someone from that era. I enjoyed watching the two grow close through an assortment of witty banter and neurosis typically found in Woody Allen movies. The humour is light but effective, but what kept my interest more than anything was the mystery of Sophie’s abilities and the impact it had on a hardcore sceptic convinced of the randomness and meaninglessness of the universe.
The supporting characters are also funny albeit being more like caricatures. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Hamish Linklater as Brice, a well-meaning and very wealthy young man pining after Sophie, Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s protective mother, and Aussie legend Jackie Weaver as Grace, a grieving widow perfect for Sophie to exhibit her powers.
I agree Magic in the Moonlight is an interesting and pleasant film to watch — it’s just not the kind of film that will wow you or raise your pulse or even generate any kind of noticeable emotional response. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just would have preferred more energy and a greater sense of wonder to make me care more about the story and the characters.
Perhaps “disappointing” is being harsh, since I enjoyed Magic in the Moonlight for what it was — a bit of lighthearted fun you’ll probably never think of again once the end credits roll. I wanted a little more from Woody than just that, though it’s still not a bad film to check out when you feel like simply sitting back and relaxing on a boring afternoon.
3.25 stars out of 5