The next installment of his trip around Europe sees Woody Allen and his star filled cast in the south of France – lazing around pools, manicured lawns and tennis courts in this gorgeous, easy to enjoy romantic comedy: Magic in the Moonlight. Set in the 1920’s – the film centers on Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) – a rational and scientific magician who is called upon to debunk the talents of psychic medium Sophie (Emma Stone) ‘a visionary and a vision’ who has managed to have the mother and son of the wealthy Catledge family cast under her spell.
The moment the movie begins, the black cards and the impressive cast in alphabetical order start tapping along happily next to the jazz soundtrack, I start to smile. It’s typical Allen and the familiarity is just as welcoming and wonderful as ever. With every film he creates, you start looking eagerly for his best repeated steps, his morbid fascination with death, his nervousness dressed up in beige slacks and a blue shirt, his psychoanalytic despair and now more than ever, his time spent on a European holiday – sending us love letters back from his favourite spots.
The most magical element of Magic In The Moonlight is the ‘in-the-flesh’ experience of a dreamy, sun-dipped holiday that you have just stepped into. The cinematography, set and costume design have made this film feel so ethereal and very enjoyable. Obviously this is a Woody Allen film and although Allen is clearly present (while perhaps on this occasion, sipping lemonade under a tree) I really enjoyed the craftsmanship that came together to make this movie an idyllic spoonful of cinema delight. There’s a scene where the gullible son Brice is serenading Sophie on a balcony and you can almost taste the crisp ocean spray, feel the sun melt on your skin and the wind push your hair around. As sometimes filmmakers are so desperate to push an agenda that swallows the film whole, it was nice to see these charismatic elements weren’t cast away into the shadows and had it’s moment to shine.
Another thing about Magic in the Moonlight I appreciated was that everyone was just so damn charming. It was a much needed relief from Blue Jasmine and frankly a lot of Allen’s films where his characters are flawed to the point of being plain awful. Apart from Stanley’s smugness (which gives the film it’s best lines of the script) – this time around it was like spending time with the most delightful group of people ever created. In particular, the smitten Brice (Hamish Linklater) as the gorgeous puppy-in-love socialite who follows Sophie around with a ukulele and the delightful Mrs Catledge (Jacki Weaver) who lights up the screen with her enthusiasm for the supernatural. And while Stanley is complaining most of the time, there’s a tint of playfulness that makes you smile when he’s around. Then of course there’s the ever so lovely Sophie, who wanders effortlessly into the frame to take center stage. It’s easy to fall for her, she’s just as infectious with her big-as-dinner-plate eyes and dancing hands as she is with her clairvoyant appeal. Soon, with Stanley, we start to wonder if a creature as captivating as she, could ever really exist.
While the dialogue is quite witty, over all the plot was a bit underwhelming and lacked the intelligence that Allen injects into his better films. It had a lot more potential and knowing Allen and his recent successes (Blue Jasmine, Midnight in Paris, Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) where his famous Woody Allen-esque of blending together a captivating plot with his clever conversations, play out like a great jazz record that you feet can’t stop tapping to. Yet Magic in The Moonlight tip-toes too close to the Allen’s not so great films (Scoop, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, To Rome With Love) that didn’t hit the magical notes that Allen is capable of.
Allen is also very talented at creating great roles for women and seeing Stone play Sophie, gazing off into her visions, was almost magic. I did, however, miss Stone’s cartoonish way of delivering comedy. She has an ability to pull a funny face (without trying to look pretty) and it seemed like a missed opportunity by Allen as he could have given her a Oscar winning role (like he has for many of his leading ladies) had her part had been a juicer one. It bothered me slightly that his only impulse was to give Sophie the eccentricity of an bottomless stomach – the only illusion I was able to resist was believing that she could always be eating with such a slight figure.There is many more ways to give her personality intrigue and bite and I think Allen got a bit lazy this time.
While the film has it’s fun playing with themes of illusion versus logic and if Stanley is able to expose Sophie, the major appeal of Magic in The Moonlight lies in the enchantment that Allen is able to create. It was as if The Great Gatsby went to the Rivera for a much needed relax and came out as a refreshed romantic comedy. The costumes, the soundtrack, the locations as well as the sun soaked afternoons among the swaying trees, the long drives along the coast and the most beautiful ball you could possibly attend – are just the tipping point of how alluring this film is. For me it’s one of the reasons I love watching movies is the feeling of pure happiness when you walk out of the cinema, knowing you’ve spent your time with something wonderful. After I left Magic in the Moonlight, I was more than happy to be under the spell that had been cast over me.
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