Review: Magic in the Moonlight
By Floyd Rock
With Magic in the Moonlight writer and director Woody Allen returns with his annual cinematic outing to deliver a period tale on love and logic, the struggle between heart and mind, and overcoming one’s own self-importance accompanied by his signature brand of witty neurotic comedy. Though Allen has decided to go with a breezier outing this year, Magic in the Moonlight proves to be another welcome addition to his large body of work. Like the recent Midnight in Paris Allen again returns to France to deliver another delightful old fashioned romantic confection.
Stepping into the usual Allen screen persona is British talent Colin Firth as Stanley an illusionist with world-wide renown under the stage name Wei Ling Soo. An old friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), implores Stanley to return with him to the French Riviera to help identify a fraudulent psychic and clairvoyant given Stanley’s talents of illusion and stage trickery. Upon arriving Stanley meets the young woman in question, a charming beauty by the name of Sophie (Emma Stone). Try as he would like however, Stanley is unable to find fault in Sophie’s seemingly amazing abilities, which include knowledge of personal details about him and his family and conducting a séance in which a candle levitates in midair. The possibility that her psychic abilities may not be a façade begins to take hold of Stanley, making him question his inherent cynicism and possibly throwing his entire worldview on its head.
While Magic in the Moonlight may not feature a central role designed around a powerhouse performance like Cate Blanchett in last year’s Blue Jasmine Firth’s talents should not be dismissed. He cultivates a nimble performance incorporating Allen’s precise dialogue exchanges, Stanley’s egotism, and his eventual love-struck adoration of Emma Stone’s enchanting Sophie. While it doesn’t have the intensity displayed by Blanchett in Allen’s previous film it still requires the layered talents of someone like Firth, taking it above being just another fill-in for Allen himself and creating a rounded and rich character. A character with his heart and mind eventually conflicting because, perhaps for the first time, there’s something about this young woman that cannot be simply explained. Emma Stone’s Sophie is a different kind of character, constructed in the same vein as those from classic Hollywood. While she may not be a complex role she’s a character of great presence and personality. Like his use of Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris Woody Allen has created a role for Emma Stone that by accentuating her distinct look and personality traits, draping her in elegant period attire, and setting her against the film’s beautiful locals is nothing short of striking. It’s the kind of role that would have fit well with the old days of the Hollywood system, crafted in a way to turn actresses not into celebrities but stars.
In Magic in the Moonlight Allen again taps into his romantic side in the tradition of past romantic escapist comedies like The Purple Rose of Cairo, the recent Midnight in Paris, and the overlooked Alice. It shows Allen’s love for classic cinema and in particular feels like a throwback to the carefree, alluring, and cheerful films of the 1930s. Magic in the Moonlight should not be mistaken as a picture about skepticism but a comedy about conceit and a romance where the mysteries of the universe may just reside within the confines of the human heart.