Dr. Donna Copeland’s
COLIN FIRTH EMMA STONE MARCIA GAY HARDEN JACKI WEAVER SIMON MCBURNEY
Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen may have made more films than any living director; however, he is certainly quantity over quality. With last year’s gargantuan Woody Allen hit, Blue Jasmine, in which Cate Blanchett became the first actor to win best actress in one of his films since Diane Keaton for Annie Hall. Magic in the Moonlight, however, will not win awards or be hailed as a back-to-back hit for Allen. The 78-year-old filmmaker has always been known for his hits and misses, and while Magic has its own inconvenient charm, it’s fleeting and forgettable. Both Colin Firth and Emma Stone play charming characters; they just don’t have the right type of romantic chemistry.
Famous for his Asian magic tricks and traveling illusions, what Stanley (Firth) really loves is exposing psychics, mediums, and fortune tellers as frauds. His best friend Howard Burkan (McBurney) has summoned him to the South of France to meet a young spirit talker named Sophie (Stone). Determined to disprove her talks with the dead and her ability to explain details she would have no knowledge about, Stanley is aghast at the details of his past, floating candlesticks, and her natural beauty. Known for his harsh skepticism and disapproval of all things spiritual and religious, he will have to reevaluate everything he has said and believed.
Old cars, jazz music, and nostalgia; whimsy is the main dish Allen is serving this time. Romance is on the brain once again, rather than divine character study. There are some clever details in the making here, mostly with the way Stanley’s entire world is so quickly turned upside down by a woman two decades his junior. Of course, while the audience is very familiar with large age gaps between men and women in film, the lack of chemistry between the actors and the fact that no one would ever believe these two people would fall for each other, just makes the entire thing more silly than Allen intended.
The script might have played better if Stanley would have remained a platonic figure with Sophie. The highlights of the film are in the beginning when he is intent on exposing her tricks or shaming her with sarcasm. If you are familiar with Allen’s work, he is a realist (most of the time), so the clever audience member should side with Stanley. But here, Allen becomes more enamored with the romance of the situation than with the magic or the idea of it. Magic in the Moonlight isn’t a bad film, and might be a much-needed escape from all the bombastic sound effects and CGI we have endured this year so far.
Final Thought – Silly at best, trite at worst.
By: Dustin Chase
Ah, Woody Allen! What a masterful filmmaker! He has the ability to create something perfectly charming and entertaining, while touching on matters of substance and importance to the human condition. All of that is coupled with music just right for the occasion and actors that seamlessly embody their characters.
Magic in the Moonlight is indeed about magic—all different kinds of magic. Stage magic, the occult, a ruse, and the magic of love—while the song plays on…”You do something to me…Do do that voodoo that you do so well.” Stanley (Firth) is a magician who takes pride in performing on stage; but, on the other hand, also delights in exposing charlatans who claim they’re in touch with God and spirits. So when his friend Howard (McBurney) tells him about Sophie (Stone), a psychic with incredible abilities, he accedes to Howard’s invitation to go see her work for himself. It will also give him a chance to see his beloved aunt Vanessa (Atkins).
They meet in the south of France on a beautiful estate owned by people of wealth, one of whom (Linklater) is smitten with Sophie and promising her a life of luxury if she will marry him. Now, Stanley is a good looking but snobbish man who seems to manage to offend everyone he meets with his superior attitude and skepticism about anything that smacks of what he considers unscientific thinking. One of his idols is Nietzsche, whom he quotes often. He particularly enjoys commenting on Sophie’s humble beginnings (she was abandoned by her father in Kalamazoo, Michigan) and is open about exposing her as a fraud.
But Sophie is no fool; she is shrewd in sparring with him and ever so patient with his pretentiousness. He attends séances, and invites her to accompany him on a visit with his aunt, and they attend a luxurious ball, so come to know each other quite well. Finally, there is a denouement that takes everyone by surprise.
Towards the end, there is a wonderful conversation between Stanley and his Aunt Vanessa that reveals so much about Stanley’s emotional life that he hasn’t the foggiest insight into. Allen usually has at least one character in his films who is a version of himself, and here I think it’s Stanley. Although it’s pure speculation, I can imagine that Allen could be intellectually condescending at times. Further, the filmmaker does acknowledge a view that life is meaningless, and because of that, he prefers magic to reality. I can also imagine that when he fell in love with Soon-Yi, his current wife, there were considerations similar to those Stanley discusses with his aunt—that is, what is rational and appropriate and what to do with strong emotions.
Magic in the Mooonlight—like an entertaining weekend in the south of France. Beautifully filmed!
By Donna R. Copeland