Woody Allen’s latest effort employs the French Riviera of the 1920s as a backdrop for his tale of magicians and frauds. Colin Firth plays Stanley Crawford, the man behind renowned stage performer Wei Ling Soo, a staunch cynic whose other pastime is defrauding mystics, in this case Emma Stone’s Sophie Baker, a young American psychic preying upon the wits and hearts of the wealthy Catledge family.
The film is undoubtedly a spectacle for the eyes. Cinematographer Darius Khondji provides a consistently spectacular vista of the Cote d’Azur, achieving the bluest of water and most golden of sunshine against which the white linen costumes and Stone’s red hair are contrasted to mesmerising effect. The jazzy, Cole Porter infused soundtrack keeps things moving along, and the whole thing has a general impressionistic, rose-tinted charm and nostalgia.
However, the story fails to fly along with the ease of the refrain, instead faltering with the frequently wooden script which lacks spark and timing. Firth and Stone are fantastic, quick and comedic, yet the dialogue makes the whole illusion slip up, revealing the mechanics behind Allen’s magic. Allen is famously prolific, churning out films at almost a yearly rate recently, which is no grounds for criticism itself, yet there is no denying that Magic in the Moonlight could have benefited from a little more time, care, and a few script rewrites.
The attempts at greater depth also falter. Frivolous witticisms are placed alongside an exploration of spirituality and personal belief as Stanley’s cynical nihilism is challenged by Sophie’s ‘magic’. Nietzsche’s pertinent phrase ‘we all need our illusions to live’ is brought up, but never really explored, and Stanley’s character is never given enough interiority to present a realistic crisis of belief.
Unlike the great Wei Ling Soo, Woody Allen is undeniably becoming lazy with his craft and here goes through all the motions without delivering a spectacle of due proportions. Luckily his bag of tricks is still full enough to get away with it – the cinematography, cast, soundtrack and costume design provide a sufficiently charming façade, although it wears dangerously thin at times.