Review: Magic In The Moonlight

Flimsy Whimsy On The French Riviera Is Amiable Fluff. Strangely Lacking Allen’s Trademark Character Depth.

After the incredible achievement and return to top form of Blue Jasmine, replete with Cate Blanchett’s towering performance of a woman on the edge of her own undoing, writer/director Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight is a marked gear-change.

Set during the F. Scott. Fitzgerald era of the roaring ‘20s Cote d’Azur, this flimsy piece of whimsy certainly looks magnificent, dripping in gorgeous period detail that makes one yearn for an alternate universe where Allen, and not the mad, brash bedazzle of Baz Luhrman had brought to life the recent stab at The Great Gatsby.

Colin Firth stars as Stanley Crawford, a successful showman and illusionist who performs under the heavily made up, in more ways than one, Oriental magician, the great Wei Ling-Soo. In a fabulously cantankerous opening scene as he rails, off stage, against all and sundry, he’s confronted by old friend and fellow trickster Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) who challenges him to follow him to the Riviera and expose a supposed clairvoyant, Sophie Baker, played with trademark likeability by the flame-haired Emma Stone, though she could certainly tone down the wide-eyed ingénue shtick, which is overplayed, despite the comic tone.

Once the action relocates to France, the initially rapid-fire wit soon slows to a dawdling dandy’s pace that perfectly matches the egotistical Crawford, but doesn’t exactly provide much of Jasmine’s depth, or even the cinematic magic on show in Midnight in Paris.

Not bad, per see, it’s just utterly predictable and seriously lightweight. Jacki Weaver makes little mark as the rich yet terribly gullible matron who yearns to commune with her dad husband. Stone, too, is given little to work with, and the Pygmalion pairing of her with Frith is eye-rollingly irksome at times and particularly telling of Allen’s personal obsessions.

The only person who really manage to wrangle some genuine heft from this most frilly of affairs is Eileen Atkins as Crawford’s sassily sage Aunt Vanessa. By no means unwatchable, it lacks Allen’s rich tapestry of character. Darius Khondji’s handsome cinematography, captured on 35mm, is the real star of the show, alongside Anne Sieble’s lush production design. Charming, if occasionally icky, fluff.

Stephen A Russell