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Movie Review: Magic in the Moonlight

Twitview: Not his best, not his worst.  Firth & Stone are sweet and funny. B

Stanley (Colin Firth) hates a con artist.  Which is kind of ironic, as he’s a magician of the highest order, providing his audiences with grade-A illusions.  But outside of his day (night?) job, he’s a debunker of pseudo-mystics, and he loves his work.  So when his best — and only — friend Howard (Simon McBurney) calls upon him to help debunk a mystic that has her claws in a wealthy family down in the French Riviera, Stanley leaps at the opportunity.  But Sophie (Emma Stone) isn’t what he expects, and soon he’s questioning his ideals.  Should he stick with stodgy, disappointing truth or allow that there’s the possibility of magic and joy in the world?

The basic story here is Stanley’s battle with his own deeply held disbelief.  He’s desperate to hold on to the idea that there is no real magic in the world, that there’s an explanation for everything, and that the head trumps the heart every time.  Of course you know he’ll be taken down a peg or two.  Being as this is a Woody Allen joint though, Stanley will get a ton of wisecracks in before his inevitable shift in perspective.  Firth and McBurney have a wonderful lifelong pals chemistry, and although I’m sick to death of the May/December romances that litter Woody’s work, I have to admit that the chemistry between Firth and Stone is equally engaging.

Colin Firth is winning here, even though his Stanley is about as big a jerk as anyone could come across.  Plus, it’s good to see Firth dust off his Darcy, as Stanley is just as arrogant as his Austen counterpart. There’s even a playful wink-nudge for P&P fans, as Stanley plays out a scene that seems cribbed straight from Austen’s notebooks. Fun in it’s own right, but even better if you know the ‘95 BBC adaptation.  Sadly there’s no rising up from the lake in this film.  Sorry folks.


Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me” runs through the film, and is a theme. Coincidence?  Absolutely not; this film is all about how someone can change the way you look at the world, and as the song came out in 1929, it’s a perfect fit with this period piece.  Gorgeous costuming from Sonia Grande (who’s worked with Woody on Midnight in Paris & Vicky Cristina Barcelona), that has drop-dead extravagance and a nice smattering of all socio-economic fashion of the period.  Not that I don’t love seeing tons of elaborately beaded/laced/tassled flapper dresses (swoon), but it’s good to see Sophie in styles suited to someone of her limited income.  At least at the start of the film…

Woody — for some reason though I tend to use last names with directors, I’ve always felt like Woody Allen was more Woody than Mr. Allen — does his usual beautiful set-ups, with shots that not only do the characters justice but also pull you into their locations.  With Magic in the Moonlight being in the south of France, it’s not the “I love NY” of his NYC films, but there’s plenty of visually stunning bits nonetheless. My favorites?  Anything outdoors, where Woody can showcase the lush beauty of that area.  There’s lots of witty repartee & bon mots as you’d expect from a Woody Allen film, but not so many that it harkens back to his earlier work. This isn’t Annie Hall, nor Mighty Aphrodite, but a semi-serious look at how someone can ruin his life if he holds on to his beliefs too tightly, with a light touch of comedy and romance thrown in.

There are definitely echoes of his oeuvre here, for Woody addicts.  Emma Stone’s Sophie is very much the Mia Farrow waif here.  The back-and-forth of possibilities until the film’s climax.  But there’s a few different touches too.  In Magic in the Moonlight, the film has a laser-focus on Sophie and Stanley; everyone else, save Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa (the wonderful Eileen Atkins of Doc Martin)? Props to cement the story.  Like any actor’s gonna say no to being in a Woody Allen film?  Hell, I’d push a broom.

Is Magic in the Moonlight Woody’s own reevaluation of the world now that he’s older and wiser (and in love with a much younger woman hisownself)? I’m sure others will mash that idea to death elsewhere.  But as far as the film itself goes, much like the south of France, it’s a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.  Kick back, relax and don’t expect a life-changing moment.  This is Woody at his middling, which still ain’t bad.

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