PHOTO BY PERDIDO PRODUCTIONS
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
Where is it playing?: Downtown Centre, Park
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $5.00
Writer-director Woody Allen helms this romantic comedy about a famous English illusionist (Colin Firth) who’s enlisted to help an American family taken in by a clairvoyant (Emma Stone).
In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote, “The very fabric of life now ... is magic.” Stanley Crawford—a prickly, cynical stage magician played by Colin Firth—would probably find that description ludicrous. Woody Allen, on the other hand, most likely has that phrase stamped right above his typewriter, as he continues his 1920s fetishism with his latest European romantic comedy escapade Magic in the Moonlight.
Allen’s already set his neuroses in London, Paris, Spain, and Rome, so that leaves us in Berlin. The year is 1928, and we are at the magic show of Wei Ling Soo, a fake Chinese illusionist performed and concocted by Caucasian and all-around grump Stanley Crawford. Like Houdini and several real-life magicians of that time, Crawford takes great delight in debunking the rampant spirit mediums of the day by exposing their supposed “magic” for what it really is: crass deceit. So, when Crawford hears of an apparently undebunkable medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), he can’t resist the temptation to ruin the charlatan. Change the setting to the seductive south of France, throw in some hokey, séance high jinks, dash a light-dusting of jazz, and you’ve got Mediocre in the Moonlight.
This is the deal you get when you go to see a Woody Allen film. He makes one a year, and with all that quantity comes a dip in quality every now and again. Unfortunately, this is one of those dips. From the rushed script to the dialogue dead-ends to Stone’s empty, over-the-top character, Magic in the Moonlight is often too light and predictable for its own good. What Allen sets up as a battle of belief systems—the skeptic versus the spiritualist—evolves (or devolves) into a schlocky rom-com between two people (Stone and Firth) who don’t have all that much chemistry or magic between them.
It’s a shame, too, because all the elements of an excellent film are in place. Firth is in top form as the sarcastic, spiteful, and egotistical Crawford. The French Riviera location couldn’t be more beautiful, ripe with lush coastal scenes and populated with the elegance of 1920s fashion and Gatsby-style parties. Stone, too, is a magnetic comedic presence when given the moments to shine. But, sadly, those moments are few and far between as her character Sophie is often relegated to the doe-eyed airhead who only comes into her own as a complex person after the film’s final, somewhat bleak twist. After a string of recent hits with Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, this film hardly has the audacity or, dare I say, the magic to stand up with those two. As Crawford says, a cardinal magician’s rule is “to never repeat a trick.” Maybe Allen should listen to his characters. (97 min.)
—Jessica Peña; New Times arts editor