Film Review: Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism

Starting out deep in the 'Harry Potter' vein, but then getting sidetracked into desperately glitzy showbiz shenanigans, this neither-fish-nor-fowl project should end up pleasing no one.
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The spunkiest little orphan since that freckle-faced ginger Annie, forever shrieking about “Tomorrow,” Molly Moon (Raffey Cassidy) deals with her hard-knock life in Hardwick House, with its mean witch of a directress, Miss Adderstone (Lesley Manville), and a hideous diet largely consisting of fish-head soup, with an eye staring out at you. Her twin refuges from these horrors are her musical best buddy Rocky (Jadon Carnelly-Morris) and the library, where she discovers an ancient tome about hypnotism which helps her acquire that very special gift.

When Rocky gets adopted into a London family, a bereft Molly goes in search of him, book in hand and accompanied by Petula, a little rascal of a black pug. She uses her hypnotic skills to land herself in a posh hotel and even gets her decidedly un-musical self a career as the star replacement for impossible diva celebutante Davina (Tallulah Evans) in a big show. Meanwhile, she is unknowingly being stalked by Nockman (Dominic Monaghan), a weaselly crook who wants that book to aid him and his shady mother (Joan Collins) with a big robbery.

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism starts off rather promisingly in the Dickensian orphanage and is sparked by the vivid presences of three strong character-actress stalwarts of British film: Manville, Emily Watson as a more beneficent children’s caretaker, and Celia Imrie as a daffy Cockney chef concocting inedible nightmares for the poor tykes. The winsome imprint of Harry Potter is everywhere apparent, but it is only when the scene shifts to London that the film really goes off the rails. Hypnotism is always a dicey proposition dramatically, as it requires the viewer, like the movie’s subjects, to suspend major disbelief to be able to go along for the (hopefully) rollicking ride. And if you think the instant stardom accorded contestants on, say, “American Idol” is sometimes unearned, wait until you see Miss Molly earn ovations of adulation for her talentless squawking she has seduced audiences into believing is Amy Winehouse-brilliant. There’s some sharp observation and vivid performance moments during the glitzy London showbiz scenes, but the movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be: teen musical, an adolescent fantasy of fame and fortune, a family-friendly heart-warmer or noisily rambunctious caper film. End result: Despite a handsome, well-designed production, but with a mediocre score of mostly whining emo ditties, Molly Moon succeeds in being none of these things on a satisfying level.

Cassidy does make a nicely spunky central presence, with uncanny turquoise eyes which may have played a major role in her getting cast in the first place. Handsome Carnelly-Morris has an appealingly dignified air, and some fetching musical chops worthy of any hypersensitive boy band. Evans performs in a way to make you believe in her perky stardom and kicks up some pretty tantrums. Monaghan has some droll moments, but Collins, as his rapacious mater, has, with her inevitable, distinctly B-movie posturing, officially crossed into that netherworld of aging media “legend” morphing into cut-rate-looking drag queen, with the same now-unflattering bodacious coiffure and wardrobe of her “Dynasty” heyday adorning a somewhat more wizened mien and frame.

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