As if proving that old age is a kind of second childhood, Allen has been on a magic-themed run of late, with Scoop, the Curse of the Jade Scorpion, I See a Tall Dark Stranger and now Magic In The Moonlight, his 47th film, in which Colin Firth plays a celebrated stage magician asked to debunk an American clairvoyant named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who appears to have hoodwinked a rich American family in their home on the Riviera. Screwing up her nose and cradling the air with her hands, Stone’s green eyes seem to well with news of the dearly departed. Her cuteness is confounding. “The more I watch her, the more I’m stumped,” confesses Stanley. Is her magic real or it is it a trick?
Some may feel the same way about the movie. Spun from the most gossamer-thin of ideas — a sketch really, stretched out to feature length – the film is as airy as they come, propelled along by a plot seemingly plucked from the 1920s in which it is set. Firth falls for Stone, as of course he must. After a rain-soaked dash to a planetarium, a cupid’s stratagem which last saw the light of day in Manhattan, Stanley gazes up at the stars and begins to wonder if there aren’t more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his dry, rationalist philosophy — a theme that Allen has been cogitating since A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, with which this film shares its air of summer magic if not quite its comic canter.
Allen’s comic instincts appear to be softening. There’s one scene, set during one of Sophie’s seances, in which widow Jackie Weaver asks after rumors of her departed husband’s affairs, that seems to be crying out for a punchline — a seance! sex! a husband questioned beyond the grave! — but mystifyingly it never arrives.
Charming without being laugh-out-loud funny, Magic in the Moonlight seems more intent on casting its own spell than going for the jugular. Shot on 35-mm by Darius Khnondji, who seems to catch every dust mote in the diffuse lemony light, Magic in the Moonlight is Allen’s most exquisite-looking movie in quite a while, conjuring a Wodehousian Eden of lawns and tennis courts, with Stone’s pale-limbed Sophie set like a gem in centre-frame.
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