Directed by: Woody Allen
Set in the 1920s on the opulent Riviera in the south of France, this light, romantic comedy is about a master magician, and mystic debunker, Stanley Crawford (Firth) who appears on stage as Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo a celebrated magician who is tapped by his oldest friend and fellow magician, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), to help try and expose a psychic medium Sophie Baker (Stone) as a fake. On stage, Wei Ling Soo is something of a marvel, packing theaters and wowing audiences with his amazing feats of brilliance, offstage, Stanley is something of a grouchy, arrogant Englishman with an inflated opinion of himself, an aversion to phony spiritualists’ claims of real magic, and a complete distain of spirituality entirely.
Persuaded by his life-long friend, to assist in the debunking of Baker, Stanley travels to the Côte d’Azur mansion of the Catledge family where mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen) are in danger of being duped into bankrolling Baker’s bogus psychic institute. Stanley presents himself as a businessman in order to debunk the alluring young clairvoyant who is staying there with her mother (Harden). Sophie arrived at the Catledge villa at the invitation of Grace, who is convinced that Sophie can help her contact her late husband, and once there, attracted the attention of Brice, who has fallen completely in love with her.
Needless to say, from his initial meeting with Sophie, Stanley dismisses her as an insignificant pip-squeak whom he can unmask in no time, all the time scoffing at the Catledge family’s astounding gullibility. However, much to his utter surprise and enormous discomfort, not only does Sophie accomplish numerous feats of mind-reading and other supernatural deeds defying all rational explanation, Stanley begins to become enraptured by the lovely young lass. Before long, Stanley confesses to his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) that he has begun to wonder whether Sophie’s powers could actually be real. If they were to be true, Stanley realizes that anything might be possible, even good, and his entire belief system would come crashing down.
As with most of the recent Woody Allen’s films, what occurs onscreen are a series of lighthearted, magical moments that are wrapped up in the melodic music of the era all of which creates a truly magical atmosphere even as the lighthearted tale is woven across the cinematic backdrop of the French Riviera. The story itself is full of great dialogue, insightful observations and wonky twists and turns that make it a veritable delight to unfold onscreen. Well worth taking in for those of us long-time Allen fans.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.