Magic in the Moonlight

Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in Woody Allen's latest film

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• Lucy ★★★
• Into the Storm ★★

Magic in the Moonlight

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Written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Hamish Linklater, Eileen Atkins, Erica Leerhsen, Simon McBurney, Jeremy Shamos.

(Warning: mild spoilers in below review.)

Colin Firth plays the world’s worst psychic debunker in Magic in the Moonlight, a lightweight piece of Woody Allen fluff with precious little magic or moonlight. At least there’s some 1920s Southern France ambience and some terrific period music to save this thing from being a total wash; still, it’s one of the director’s worst in years. 

Firth is Stanley Crawford, better known to the public as Wei Sing Loo, an Oriental magician who saws showgirls in half and makes elephants disappear. But underneath the Fu Manchu mustache and bald cap, Stanley is an impossible English curmudgeon with a distaste for all things spiritual – especially phony “psychics” who take advantage of others’ hope.

That’s why he leaps at the opportunity an old friend brings him while performing in Berlin: Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) tells Stanley of a young American clairvoyant who has convinced an American family living in the French Riviera that she can communicate with their deceased patriarch. Howard – also a magician – has been unable to debunk her, even after witnessing a séance. 

Stanley’s beloved aunt (played by Eileen Atkins) also lives in the area, so the psychic adventure will be a nice little vacation away from fiancée Olivia (Catherine McCormack, who has a single scene). In the Riviera, he meets Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver, wasted), who desperately wants to communicate with her dead husband, and son Brice (Hamish Linklater), who is so smitten with the family’s newfound psychic that he serenades her with a ukulele. 

That psychic is Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who works the “I can sense…” business while her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) talks finances – hey, this isn’t a free service. But Sophie is the most cliché psychic this side of John Edward, wildly impressing everyone with her publicly-available information (“There’s no way she could have known that! Unless somebody told her…”) and some chintzy ghost effects including a knock on the table and a floating candle. 

Of course, this is enough to sell world-class debunker Stanley, who falls for it at such a speed that we suspect it’s all a ruse – he hasn’t really bought into this, has he? Allen’s treatment of his lead character here is tantamount to character assassination: here he’s introduced this world class magician, only to have him fall under the spell of some two-bit psychic almost sight unseen. 

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Some critics are complaining about the age difference between the leads (at 53, Firth is more than twice as old as Stone), but here’s my complaint: I didn’t care enough about these characters to want to see them get together. 

The final act of Magic in the Moonlight feels completely perfunctory when, the main plot having resolved itself, we’re supposed to be rooting for Firth’s insufferable magician and Stone’s phony psychic to get together. Had the film ended after act two, I wouldn’t have been missing the romance, and would be thankful for the extra twenty minutes. 

I usually find some value to Woody’s lesser pictures – To Rome with Love had a couple good bits, and I was one of the very few who enjoyed You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger – but this one just rubbed me the wrong way from the start. But at a film per year, they can’t all be winners; Allen has mixed in Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris with the aforementioned, and hopefully next year he’ll be back with something to fade this one from our memory.

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