Magic in the Moonlight (2014) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Eileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Catherine McCormack
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published August 16, 2014
Set in 1928, Colin Firth (The Railway Man, The King's Speech) plays Stanley Crawford, a world-famous British illusionist working in disguise as master Chinese magician Wei Ling Soo, whose knowledge that there's no such thing as magic has him take up a side career as a debunker of fraudulent psychics claiming to possess the power to link into the spiritual world. His latest effort in keeping the public from getting fleeced comes when he visits a well-to-do British family living in the south of France who have become enamored of a visiting young mystic from Kalamazoo named Sophie Baker (Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man 2).
However, she turns out to possess the ability to know things she couldn't possibly know, to the point where even an egotistical skeptic is beginning to be a little skeptical of his own entrenched beliefs. Sophie's eye-opening observations foster in Stanley the possibility that there's more to life than the five senses, and this new outlook makes him feel the best he's felt in many years. However, what he might be denying is that there is a certain 'magic" in the chemistry between them.
Written and directed by Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine, To Rome with Love), Magic in the Moonlight benefits from a superb cast of actors, with the supporting players just as charismatic to watch as the two captivating leads. Many an actor has failed to make the auteur's dialogue work, as they can often come across as sounding like Allen's proxies, but all involved succeed in making each character his or her own. Firth takes his dialogue and elevates it to theatrical heights, as any film about a grand showman should, while Emma Stone gets to be more understated and winsome in a way that would make us like her even if she were proven to be a charlatan.
There is nearly three decades of age difference between Firth and Stone, though it's never to the icky stage, perhaps given that it's more implied than demonstrated. Plus, May-December pairings is par for the course for Allen (in films and real life), and it's not an uncommon for the era of the 1920s as a whole. Given that Allen is channeling My Fair Lady, the difference in age and station is perhaps intentional.
Just as delightful as the performers are the locations, sets, and costumes, all handsomely photographed by Darius Khondji (The Immigrant, Midnight in Paris). Even is this is inconsequential Woody, comparatively, it's hard to resist the pleasantness of the film's aesthetic appeal.
In my opinion, Allen does flub the very end seconds of the film somewhat, stealing away what could have been a very poignant thematic capper, but the venture is entertaining enough along the way that questioning the direction that the film goes in its final moments is worth overlooking for the overall recommendation. I can say that the crowd that I screened the film with applauded, so perhaps it works for most, and given that it's not as artistic an endeavor as other Allen works, I'm willing to just enjoy it for what it is.
Coming off of his masterful Blue Jasmine, expectations will certainly run high, but to those who expect a continuation of his latter-day resurgence, I urge caution. Like his other explorations into the world of magicians in efforts such as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Scoop (and New York Stories' Oedipus Wrecks), it's merely meant to entertain, and occasionally dabbles with interesting themes as the icing on the top of this sumptuous dessert of a film. Magic casts an effective spell.
©2014 Vince Leo