Sunday 2 October 2016

Movie Review: Magic In The Moonlight (2014)

A romantic comedy set in the world of magicians and psychics, Magic In The Moonlight lacks wit, charm, chemistry and charisma.

Europe, the 1920s. England's leading magician Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) performs under the elaborate stage disguise of the mysterious Wei Ling Soo. Engaged to Olivia (Catherine McCormack), Stanley is a pragmatist who refuses to believe that there is a God or any mystical forces in the world. His friend and fellow magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) pleads with Stanley to travel with him to the south of France to help debunk young American Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who is stunning rich families with her psychic powers and an apparent easy ability to communicate with spirits.

Stanley agrees and connects with Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Sophie is already being hotly pursued by the love-smitten Brice (Hamish Linklater), the son of a wealthy socialite seeking Sophie's help to connect with her dead husband. Sophie immediately impresses Stanley with her psychic abilities, and he is unable to discern any untoward tricks. He starts to believe that maybe there are mystical forces in the world, while falling in love with Sophie. An unfortunate incident with Stanley's Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) proves to be an unexpected turning point.

Written and directed by Woody Allen, Magic In The Moonlight hints strongly that Allen's tank is beginning to run on empty. There is never any moment in this film that does not appear contrived, and the actors don't appear to even be trying to pretend that they are anything other than modern day performers having a frolic in 1920s costumes.

The script is shorn of any intellect, humour, or even substance, descending quickly into lazy monotony, with Stanley repeating about half a dozen times his treatise about disbelieving in anything mystical. And when he falls in love with the doe-eyed Sophie, his transformation into a walk-on-air believer in all things spiritual is sudden to the point of ridiculous, Firth unable to do anything with the blunt material except ham it up into embarrassing over-emotion.

Allen may be trying to say something about existentialists being naturally miserable and the extraordinary benefits of believing in greater powers: why mess with spiritual beliefs if they achieve happiness among the believers, and isn't love the greatest proof of something beyond life's mechanics. It's a decent message, but delivered with an abject absence of finesse.

There is enough talent among the cast to salvage a few droll moments, and the countryside settings and cinematography look idyllic and appealing. But unfortunately, Magic In The Moonlight's greatest trick is making 97 minutes feel twice as long.

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