Magic in the Moonlight takes place in the 1920s (wow Woody, I never saw that coming…), predominantly on the French Riviera. It follows Stanley (Colin Firth), a British man who takes on the stage persona of Wei Ling Soo, mysterious and powerful magician from the orient. After his performance one night, Stanley is approached by his old friend and fellow magician Howard (Simon McBurney), who needs his help. He was hired by an American family living in France to investigate a self-proclaimed mystic preying on the more gullible members of the family. However, try as he might, Howard could not prove that the woman was a fake, and needs Stanley’s help in order to do so. Stanley, a coldly rational and practical man, jumps at the chance, as he takes a sort of perverse pleasure in exposing the lies of cons such as her. However, when he actually meets this woman, Sophie (Emma Stone), it appears that she may in fact be the genuine article, and that he might be falling in love with her.
The best way I can describe this film is simply average. I try not to compare movies too much as I try to let each one stand on its own merits, but with a director as prolific and acclaimed as Woody Allen this simply isn’t possible. So, compared to Allen’s other films, Magic in the Moonlight is simply alright. The writing and dialogue maintain the mark of Allen’s dry wit and humor, although this film is predominantly drama, not comedy. The overall writing of the plot is decent, and even kept me guessing as to whether Stone’s character was really psychic or not up to the very end.
However, the characterization is a bit uneven. While Stone and McBurney’s characters are both well-written and enjoyable, Firth’s is less-so. He seems to flip-flop between being a complete skeptic in the supernatural and an absolute believer (due to his inability to prove Sophie a fraud) at the drop of a hat, making it seem artificial and more than a little odd. Firth’s acting is better than his character’s writing, although I personally think he did a better job in The Railway Man.
This being a Woody Allen movie, it’s no big surprise that it is set in the 1920s and has a strong jazz soundtrack. This by itself is not bad, as the sets, music, and costumes create a perfectly competent and enjoyable period-piece. The thing is, even though I think the 20s are a fascinating time and I love jazz music, I’m starting to get a little tired of Allen doing the same old thing. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to go see his Bullets Over Broadway show, I just wish that he might step out of his comfort zone a little more often.
All-in-all, Magic in the Moonlight is a perfectly enjoyable but frankly pretty forgettable drama film. If it had been by almost any other director, it would be a pretty good film. But this is a Woody Allen film, and by his standards it’s only an average film. It’s a good movie to take a date to, but it’s not one of the Woody Allen films we will remember in years to come. Ah well, I suppose they can’t all be Annie Hall.