Where last year’s film ‘Blue Jasmine’ was a revelatory feast, ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ is a delightful bonbon. Writer-director Woody Allen is an indie filmmaker through and through and we should admire the fact that he gives us a new work consistently every year. It’s not as accomplished as 2011’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ but that’s okay, it’s a charming return to the Jazz Age in a wonderfully lighthearted romantic comedy. Although the dialogue gets wordy at times, the performances of Colin Firth and Emma Stone lift it to pleasant heights. Thanks to the Gatsby-style costumes, the gorgeous cinematography along the South of France and the jazzy soundtrack, ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ will go down easily as likable but not remembered as one of his classics.
Before Allen whisks us away to the picturesque setting of the breathtaking Cote d’Azur, we meet master illusionist Wei Ling Soo during a performance on stage. Once the makeup comes off backstage, the lead character Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is revealed to us. He prides himself on debunking spiritualists who prey on unsuspecting rich people. Firth is solid as the snobby Brit as he effortlessly spouts off Woodyisms throughout the story. Stanley’s friend Howard (Simon McBurney) claims he has met a genuine mystic who can communicate with the dead. She is a young American by the name of Sophie (Emma Stone). Stone is so cute in the role. She gets to wear vintage 1920s costumes in every scene and it is certainly believable how she has cast a spell on her wealthy clientele. Stanley is invited to the South of France in order to prove Sophie as a fake.
It’s hard to resist the beautiful setting. As the vintage car roars its way through the stunning coastline, Stanley meets the family enthralled by Sophie’s supernatural abilities. The matriarch Grace is innocently played by Jacki Weaver, a wealthy widow of an industrial magnate. Her son Brice (Hamish Linklater) is smitten with Sophie and serenades her with cheesy songs on a ukulele. Stanley also happens to have an expatriate Aunt named Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) who lives nearby. Atkins is wonderful in the role as she lends Stanley a necessary voice of reason. During a séance, Stanley tries to look for hidden wires to expose the young Sophie as a fraud. As the two get to know each other, Stanley is appalled at the fact that he might be falling for her. There is a terrific scene in an old observatory where the two escape for cover during a torrential rain storm.
The plot is paper thin at times but the Great Gatsby theme throughout the film is irresistible. There is a terrific party scene where Stanley gets to see Sophie decked out in a gorgeous flapper-style dress. You tend to forget about their age gap when the two grow fonder for each other. The film had the potential to be a funny screwball comedy. Their romantic connection falls into place too easily. But there is no denying that Allen has fun with the lead character Stanley who seems like a stand-in for Allen himself. As a filmmaker and performer, Allen is a magician and a skeptic of spiritualism. There could have been a deeper philosophical drama here and we get a taste of it when we hear the line, “I think Mr. Nietzche has disposed of the God matter rather convincingly!” Whether God really exists, death is absolute and people are swindlers the possibility of finding romance is at the heart of this tale. Maybe Stanley will find true love with this charming little waif after all.
‘Magic in the Moonlight’ is what it is. It’s a delightful afternoon escape at your local art house cinema. Across the span of his legendary career, Allen has provided some brilliant classics like ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan.’ Maybe we’re being too hard on the filmmaker. At this point in his career, let him make whatever he wants and be grateful he still makes magic on the silver screen. ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ will open at The Flicks on August 15 and an art house theater near you. Here’s the official trailer http://youtu.be/3fkk0wXDMfc.