Review: Magic in the Moonlight

Woody Allen's latest, Magic in the Moonlight, is a frothy romantic comedy once again doting on a bygone age, joining the nostalgia parade where 2011's Midnight in Paris left off. Somehow, the whimsical titles of both films tell us much of what we need to know; they have the sticky-sweet consistency and, frankly, all the weight of a meringue.

The setting is 1928, in the sun-dappled climes of the Cote D'Azur, and the effervescent performers are Emma Stone and Colin Firth, who are pitted against one another in a battle between rationalist skepticism and light-hearted faith. In true screwball style, Stone is Sophie, a supposed clairvoyant who is wracked with 'mental vibrations' and contacts the dead in extravagant seances for the wealthy. Firth is a clever stage-show magician who decks himself in Chinoiserie and opts for a Far Eastern persona. Off-stage, he is a brittle, emotionally distant Englishman who denounces the fools taken in by phony swindlers. His chatty verbosity recalls Rex Harrison in Unfaithfully Yours, though the comparison essentially ends there.  While it's always a pleasure to watch both actors, one can't help but to feel a certain contrivance in the air - mostly due to how awkwardly certain lines are stuffed into their mouths.

Borrowing from the great screwball comedies of the classical age, the tone is affectionately trivial - and the wily woman is forever getting one over on the suave gentleman. The thing that distinguishes Allen's film from his beloved Lubitsch and Sturges, then, is that the very best from the screwball age are determinedly memorable, in spite of their inconsequential posturing. Whether it be by deliciously pattering dialogue or romantic matches made in Hollywood heaven, those films undercut any minor-note affiliations through their wit and edginess.

Magic in the Moonlight, sadly, never seems to lift itself out of triviality. As a result, it's almost instantly forgettable - an amusing slice of distraction and nothing more, without even the gut-twisting melancholy and artistic contemplation that Midnight in Paris left us with. It's supposed to be about submitting to the terrifying grandeur of life's uncertainty, while never fully relinquishing one's cynicism. Within that rather belaboured theme, Allen finds many witty lines but very little to actually say.

Magic in the Moonlight is, ultimately, a lot like a handful of penny sweets. Nostalgic and fun, perhaps, but they've soon dissolved - and it doesn't take long to realise that they're not very satisfying.

Now showing at Cineworld Nottingham + Broadway Cinema Nottingham


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