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'Magic in the Moonlight': Reality during the day

Magic in the Moonlight
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Magic in the Moonlight

Rating:
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There is most definitely a bit of “Magic in the Moonlight” because in the moonlight Colin Firth doesn’t quite look old enough to be Emma Stone’s father. Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Magic in the Moonlight” won’t rank as one of Allen’s top ten movies, but that said, it is still wittily clever, well-acted, magnificently shot, beautifully costumed and has a wonderful 1920s score to boot.

“Magic in the Moonlight opens in 1928 Berlin with a Chinese-style magic show. When the performance ends and as the magician caustically calls out his crew and begins to take off his makeup, we realize that the magician is none other than very British Colin Firth, identified as Stanley. Backstage he’s greeted by fellow magician and long-time friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), who has a request of Stanley. He has wealthy American friends who live on the French Riviera whom he believes have fallen under the spell of an American psychic. He believes she’s a fraud, but can’t prove it and is afraid this family will be swindled by her. He knows that Stanley has a passion for ferreting out and exposing charlatans and asks for Stanley’s assistance in protecting his friends. Forgoing a trip with his fiancée, Olivia (Catherine McCormack), Stanley agrees and the two are off to the Riviera where Stanley will live with his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins). Her home is near the estate of the American family of Grace (Jacki Weaver) and her two sons, George (Jeremy Shamos) and Brice (Hamish Linklater). It’s at their home that Stanley meets the psychic, Sophie (Emma Stone), and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Stanley is quite open in his contempt for what Sophie does and his comments, while boorish, are still extremely funny. Try as he might, though, he is hard pressed to discover how Sophie is cheating, although he is certain that she is. However, in spite of his feelings, Stanley does enjoy Sophie’s company. One evening as they are out for a drive in his convertible there’s a sudden downpour. Unable to get the convertible top down, the two seek shelter in a nearby observatory where Stanley used to go as a boy. He shows Sophie how to make the ceiling open to the sky. Shortly after that ride life takes a strange turn for Stanley and the movie itself. Confused by it all, Stanley confides in his Aunt.

This is to take nothing away from Woody Allen, but as Stanley talks about Sophie’s virtues and how she has changed his life, I almost expected him to shout, “Marry Freddy??” and then burst into song with “My Fair Lady’s,” I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face…which got me thinking. Wouldn’t Firth be the perfect Henry Higgins should they ever do a revival (perhaps I should pitch my idea to NBC for another live telecast of a Broadway show.).

But back to “Magic in the Moonlight.” Woody Allen has assembled a terrific international cast. Jacki Weaver is positively luminescent when talking about her late husband. Eileen Atkins is also very good as the sympathetic Aunt. Hamish Linklater, as the lovelorn Brice, has some very amusing scenes and adds additional humor to the film. Unfortunately Marcia Gay Harden isn’t given much to do as Sophie’s mother. Emma Stone is terrific as the psychic under suspicion. But despite her talent, sometimes it’s hard to get past the age difference between her and Colin Firth and that might account for the slightly less than sizzling chemistry between the two. In all truth, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” is Firth’s film and he’s fantastic. Condescending, charming, confused and love-struck…he does it all to perfection. He handles Allen’s snappy dialogue masterfully. One can only hope Firth teams up with Allen again…but perhaps next time his co-star will be slightly closer to his age and moonlight or magic won’t be necessary.