TL;DR: Quirky periodic opening credits music; check. Assorted quotes from history’s great thinkers; check. Neurotic yet likeable lead (often male) and beautiful supporting actress; less agreeable than usual lead, but check. “Magic in the Moonlight” is Woody Allen’s newest addition to his Euro-tripping new-wave that’s as funny as “Midnight in Paris” but not as sober as “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” or “To Rome with love” and therein finds its happy medium.
Allen’s “Love and death” is one of my favourite comedies, “Annie Hall” one of my favourite Rom-Coms and “Manhattan” is simply one of the best films of all time. The way Allen wrote himself into his characters and now into the characters of other actors is brilliant for fans of his neurotic, well-read, pessimistic, self-deprecating and cunningly insulting sense of humour and “Magic in the Moonlight” is no exception.
The notion of the subjectivity of nostalgia he raised in “Midnight in Paris” was superb in my opinion. The idea of whether to love the artist or the (wo)man first in a relationship or the compromise of visionaries in theatre, Allen can put his character and ideas into many actors and interesting plots making him one of the most adaptable yet stylistic directors in the business today.
Here Allen possesses Colin Firth who plays Stanley, a travelling magician whose masked impersonation of Wei Ling Soo has made him internationally famous though unmasked he remains reasonably publicly anonymous. Stanley is well-read, heavily opinionated and rather pompous but also enjoys a happy engagement and lives out of a large home in Belgravia, London. After an almost perfect performance including the Elephant-Vanish and transporting from a sarcophagus across the stage to an empty swivel chair, an old friend visits with a proposition. He’s informed that in the South of France Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) is playing a rich family for fools with her “act” as a very loveable, believable psychic/medium. Always-right Stanley, a well-practiced debunker of the dark arts, agrees to try to force her hand when his fellow magician colleague could not.
Firth is great as the cynical, smirking Stanley. A few scenes in particular where he is observing Sophie Baker’s powers are hilarious because he’s simply in the background, out of focus, yet you know what he’s thinking and it includes the words codswallop, malarkey etc. The film is beautiful, set in the South of France and with beautiful costuming, Emma Stone is elevated to angelic prettiness despite having to pull silly séance faces now and again.
For all the praise, unfortunately I must say the final 20 minutes felt out of control like the director was trying to throw too many ideas at me at once. “Midnight in Paris” delivered its message in a brief exchange between two characters. “Magic in the Moonlight” raises notions about the relationship between blind faith and happiness and our understanding of the unknown; unfortunately we also have two extremely superfluous long word vomit extravaganzas that seem a little too inconsistent with their characters for my liking to further force this down our throats.
A refreshing change of pace and direction for Allen and lovers of his work, a film I’d take a pretty lady along to.