Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen’s 44th film casts a charming spell
Magic in the Moonlight
Directed by Woody Allen
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver
The key to watching a new Woody Allen film is figuring out which Woody you’re in for. There’s the fairly serious, film-literate Woody (he of Manhattan, Shadows and Fog and Match Point fame) and the frivolous, farce-loving Woody. (That’s the guy who gave us Sleeper, Zelig and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.) After the fulfilling, full-course dramedy that was 2013’s Academy Award-winning Blue Jasmine comes the cappuccino foam-light romcom Magic in the Moonlight.
The film finds Woody back on vacation in Europe (as he has been, more or less, since 2005). It’s the 1920s, and magician/
Our hero is thrown for a loop, however, when he encounters his prey, a charming, wide-eyed American girl named Sophie (charming, wide-eyed American actress Emma Stone). Her ability to dig up people’s long-buried family secrets is uncanny. And her spiritual insights don’t seem to mirror any of the standard tricks that phony spiritualists employ. It couldn’t be that she’s the real thing, could it? ... Could it?
Magic in the Moonlight seems to know its history. Allen clearly did a fair amount of research on the subject of magic and spiritualism in the early 20th century. Colin Firth’s character is a thinly veiled version of Harry Houdini, a skeptic who spent a lot of his spare time debunking claims of the paranormal. The costumes and setting are equally accurate, imparting the same lush sense of time and place that Allen’s 2011 Jazz Age romp Midnight in Paris did.
That uptight disbeliever Stanley will eventually fall head over heels in love with naive ghost whisperer Sophie is never really at issue. It’s just a question of when our protagonist will finally suspend his rigidly empirical disbelief in both the supernatural and the romantic. Firth, as we all know, can do this sort of stiff-upper-lip romanticism stuff in his sleep. Stone, meanwhile, makes a move to take over as Allen’s muse du jour. She’s enchanting, utterly guileless and fits effortlessly into the 1920’s silent-film gamine mold Allen has laid out for her. In addition, Allen seasons his cast with enough colorful background players to make things interesting along the way. We have, for example, Hamish Linklater (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”) as Brice, a sappy millionaire-
The stakes are very low here, and the film never amounts to more than a sweet, amusing trifle. But that hardly counts as criticism, so long as you realize what you’re in for. By turns breezy, funny and romantic, Magic in the Moonlight is lovely to look at and perfectly pleasant to sit through. Emma Stone in a flapper dress, Colin Firth in a tuxedo, a gorgeous seaside mansion on the Cote d’Azur: What’s not to like? It’s doubtful you’ll be able to recall the details of this little side trip six months or even six weeks from now. But it’s magical while it lasts.