'Magic in the Moonlight': What the Critics Are Saying

Woody Allen's latest Europe-set rom-com stars Colin Firth as an arrogant stage magician determined to debunk Emma Stone's clairvoyant claims in 1920s France.

For his latest romp around the European countryside, Woody Allen whisks moviegoers away to 1920s southern France for a frothy romantic comedy starring Emma Stone as Sophie, a cheery American with supposedly incredible psychic powers, and Colin Firth as Stanley, the arrogant English stage magician who sets out to debunk her credibility.

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The Sony Pictures Classics specialty box-office title hits 17 theaters in select cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Read what top critics are saying about Magic in the Moonlight:

In his reviewThe Hollywood Reporter’s chief film critic Todd McCarthy dismisses Magic as "a fugacious bit of whimsy that can only be judged minor Woody Allen." Although the lush camera work and period costumes and settings give the film "a not-disagreeable expensive-vacation vibe, … the one-dimensional characters are mostly ones you’d want to avoid rather than spend a holiday with."

As for the A-list leading pair, McCarthy writes that Firth looks "uncomfortable most of the time, as if unable to settle on the precise level of misanthropic disdain to express while engaging the audience." Thus, "it’s up to Stone to save the day. She does what she can, … Stone is lively, spontaneous when called upon to peer into the future or past and, appropriately, given Stanley’s difficulty in cracking her nut, hard to read. Maybe too hard, as it’s tough to decide what her game really is and what one wishes for her." Ultimately, however, Magic in the Moonlight is "so ephemeral" that "a minute after it’s over, you don’t care."

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A.O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times, is also unimpressed by the latest Allen offering. He writes, "Allen has had his ups and downs over the years. Rarely, though, has he put a story on screen that manifests so little energy, so little curiosity about its own ideas and situations. … The tidy narrative may advance with clockwork precision, but the clock’s most prominent feature is the snooze button." Scott also points out the parallels between the film’s generation-defying romance (Firth and Stone have a nearly 30-year age gap) and Allen’s scandal-ridden personal history: "Allen’s [fans] (perhaps to our shame) want to be fooled, misdirected, or at least momentarily distracted from uncomfortable truths." But with Magic’s paper-thin plot failing to divert the viewer, "we can’t help feeling that our time has been wasted, our attention trifled with and our good faith insulted."

Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times calls Magic in the Moonlight "an amusing trifle and sugary truffle of a film," although it "at times seems more like an unrealized idea than a fully formed movie." Sharkey lauds the visuals, saying that "the summery scene Allen’s created is luminous, shimmering in its period detail. … Director of photography Darius Khondji bathes it all in lovely warm tones, but Stone he makes the most luminous of all. It’s as if the sun were always shining on Sophie, when in fact it’s the kind of lighting that is magical." Yet she agrees that Magic is far from Allen’s greatest work: "the seances are great fun, and the cast is charmingly eclectic. But as to whether Moonlight is magical — it is, but ever, ever so slightly."

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Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune places Magic in the Moonlight in the center of the Woody Allen pack, calling it "a well-thumbed playing card from the middle of the deck, not one of his fully good ones, … not one of the whiffs." Phillips has high praise for cinematographer Khondji’s lighting work, calling him "the real star here." As for the onscreen stars, "Firth’s character is a relentless pill, though an occasionally amusing one, thanks largely to Firth’s wiles," while Stone is "pretty good, though she could use a few lessons in indirection and subtlety."

Time's Richard Corliss refers to Magic as "a minor comic diversion about seances and illusions," and says "the film stacks up as not great, not awful but medium Woody." Yet the comedy in particular leaves a lot to be desired, as "the audience is left hoping, like participants in one of Sophie’s seances, that a dead genre will somehow come alive in its full flower of wit and charm. It doesn’t, quite, except in its creator’s eyes. … This time, Woody Allen has fooled himself."