For this slight but charming comedy set on the 1920s Riviera, Woody Allen revisits some of his favourite themes: magic; metaphysics; the romantic pairing of an older actor with a younger actress.
Colin Firth is the older man, arrogant English magician and arch rationalist Stanley Crawford. And Emma Stone is the younger woman, Sophie Baker, a pretty young clairvoyant currently bewitching a wealthy American family living on the Côte d’Azur with her reports from the afterlife.
Stanley will surely see through her tricks in a trice and expose her as a fraud. Or so he smugly reckons. Yet when he travels to the South of France at the request of an old friend (Simon McBurney), he is rattled by her spooky perspicacity.
Might he be wrong about all mediums being fakes? Might the universe not be the bleak, meaningless, godless place he’s always maintained? Might he even he be falling in love?
For Woody Allen fans, watching the ageing maestro attempting to pull off his old tricks is a nerve-wracking business these days. Sometimes he pulls it off (Blue Jasmine); on others (Cassandra’s Dream), it’s a dead bunny that gets pulled out of the hat.
With Magic in the Moonlight the rabbit is just about alive. The script creaks; Firth’s cranky sceptic could do with a far lighter touch; and he has next to no chemistry with his co-star. And yet… There is magic here for those suitably disposed.
Sonia Grande’s costumes are enchanting and so is Darius Khondji’s cinematography (both of them frequent Allen collaborators on such films as Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love and Vicky Cristina Barcelona). The sight of a rich young nitwit (Hamish Linklater) serenading his beloved on the ukulele conjures up the sun-dappled silliness of PG Wodehouse, as does the presence of an imperious aunt, elegantly played by Eileen Atkins. For many, this won’t be enough, but if you are still willing to succumb to the illusion then Allen’s spell still has some allure.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 98 mins. Director Woody Allen.