If it's anything, Magic in the Moonlight is a trifle. It's a frothy, lightweight bit of comedy not meant to withstand anything beyond its run-time. As it plays, it works like a charm. The cinematography is a dream, the costumes dazzling, and the actors run through their dialogue as though they'd been playing their roles on stage for ages. The punchlines are rambled off as quickly as the scenes seem to turn, and the story is one tried and true: a case of false identities, wealthy aristocrats, marriage plans, and infidelity. It's our yearly dose of Woody Allen run through generations of screwball influence. Most of Magic keeps things at a surface level and leaves us with almost nothing to digest. The film is something like bubblegum or cotton candy. Depending on a viewer's temperament you'll either chew on it until it loses flavor or enjoy its sugar sweetness until it evaporates on your tongue.Magic's lightness has found it little favor with critics, but it's so harmless a bauble that any critical savagery spent on it seems misplaced. It simply is what it is: an amusing, charmingly old-school, picture postcard of a marriage plot. Sure the thing's a bit antiquated and too caught up in its own nostalgia, but it's hard to believe it was ever conceived as any deeper sort of entertainment.
The Story kicks off with a well-tread Allen trope: a magic show. We look on as Stanley (Colin Firth) awes audiences by making an elephant disappears. He performs as Wei Ling Soo in full-on stereotypical drag, a supposedly Chinese conjurer playing to packed houses all over Europe. When the makeup comes off, Stanley is a bitter, cynical man. For someone who makes a living off magic, his relationship to cold reality and hard truths is one that isolates him from those around him. His fiance is like-minded, and theirs is a clinical sort of partnership his friends and family poke fun at. Of course, in true Allen fashion, a new option quickly presents herself when Stanley is lured to Southern France with a seemingly simple challenge: to prove a supposed medium is nothing more than a con-artist.