Magic in the Moonlight-McBurney-Atkins-Firth
Photo by Jack English © Gravier Prod. - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It’s difficult to dislike Woody Allen’s latest divertissement. With attractive people engaged in amusing repartee, beautiful 1920s clothes, and the South of France as a breathtaking backdrop, Magic in the Moonlight has an abundance of eye candy and charm. It isn’t one of Allen’s best, and I’ll admit there is an air of contrivance about it, but it’s a refreshing change from most of the summer fare—like a cool drink on a hot day.

Colin Firth plays a master stage magician with an outsized ego. His boyhood pal (and fellow illusionist) Simon McBurney asks his help to expose a young woman whose sham séances and psychic messages have duped a family of wealthy Americans. Firth relishes the task, until he meets the “phony” (Emma Stone) and finds himself falling under her spell.

Magic in the Moonlight - Marcia Gay Harden-Emma Stone
Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Prod. - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Allen has concocted an elegant charade that doesn’t purport to be anything else. None of the characters could be described as truly believable. The philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and the possibility of a spirit world are superficial at best. And I could easily find other nits to pick: Firth is an able farceur but he plays this part rather strenuously, in contrast to Stone’s lighter-than-air approach. The able supporting cast (including Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver) is left in the dust with one-dimensional roles, and easily eclipsed by Eileen Atkins, as Firth’s favorite aunt. This formidable British actress dominates a crucial, climactic scene that could serve as a master class in acting…and underplaying.

Even Allen’s beloved 1920s music (which I love, too) becomes tedious at times, as he repeats certain vintage recordings over and over again.

And yet…

I enjoyed the experience of watching Magic in the Moonlight, and I smile now as I think about it. That’s no small accomplishment for any film.