Magic in the Moonlight
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater
Opens August 1
Runtime: 97 minutes
Woody Allen’s south of France comedy of manners is a period piece set amongst the rich foreigners who flock to the gold coast for holidays. It’s even more twee that he tends to be but it’s such a treat. If a film is all words and ideas, as this is, it must be placed in a beautiful setting, maybe even one that is glamorous, sunny and far removed from the after effects of war.
Colin Firth is Stanley, a no-nonsense rationalist famous for his traveling Chinese magic stage show. He transforms into Wei Ling Soo in red silks, a long ponytail and Fu Manchu moustache and other stereotypically early twentieth century Chinese accoutrements as he performs feat of wonder and awe. He enters a box and reappears in a chair on the other side of the stage, a neat trick we see reinterpreted later that marks the climax of the film. Stanley’s “magic” comes from intensive training, day after day.
Stanley’s greatest passion however is the unmasking of psychic frauds, those who would speak to the dead and see visions for money. For this reason he is called to the south of France. A dear friend and fellow magician wants him to observe an American girl (Stone) who has been taken in by a wealthy family to read their fortunes.
Sophie’s visions and psychic impressions are surprisingly good and Stanley’s refusal to accept them makes him look foolish even in his own mind, but he sticks to his logical beliefs. To accept what she’s putting out means there must be a spiritual world and a God which is antithetical to his very being.
But as the days go by Sophie’s readings zero in on him, and can’t be ignored. Stanley enjoys spending time with her as she opens his mind up to new ideas, the pleasures of the world and the possibility of a greater power. Suddenly the roses smell good and life is new. Maybe there is a benevolent God.
But just as his mind is being expanded, there’s a hell of a twist.
The story is slight, with the weight of a cream puff. The film’s great strength is that Allen, the master, creates a fantasy world that has intellectual and comic heft and pits logic against emotion and desire. And yet it is still cream puff-light. Talk about a delicate touch.
Firth can do no wrong. He has such command of the screen whether in a drama or comedy or this which is a smattering of both, that he is The Boss. His onscreen intellect, searching mind and uptight priggishness are utterly charming. Stone is a worthy love interest with an innate charm and intelligence that makes her perfect for a new kind of Woody Allen film. The scatterbrain’s gone in favour of wit and sharp intelligence.
Sophie has the balls to challenge society and the brains to recognise authenticity in others and even if she’s doing something that’s not quite to the letter of the law, her winning personality somehow makes it okay. Allen’s Murder in Manhattan saw a character get away with murder. There are no murders here, but there are more polite crimes.
Slow to start before it takes off like a bullet, Magic in the Moonlight is a charmer that’s as intellectuality stimulating as any Allen film and a great major adult showcase for the talents of Ms. Stone.