Featuring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney
Screenwriter/Director: Woody Allen
Movie website: www.sonyclassics.com/magicinthemoonlight/
Australian release date: Thursday, 28 August, 2014
Verdict: A bit short on magic and moonlight, but fun viewing, and well-performed.
Famous magician Stanley (Colin Firth) travels incognito to the Côte d’Azur to unmask beautiful young medium Sophie (Emma Stone) as a fraud and con-artist. He is unsettled by Sophie’s demonstration of her apparent powers, unable to discern any trickery or sleight of hand on her part. Ever the arrogant rationalist, however, he maintains his cynicism until she divines intimate secret details about his life that are unerringly accurate and impossible for her to know. In subsequently opening his mind to the mysterious and wondrous – even magical – aspects to life outside the bounds of the scientifically rational, he also opens his heart. But has he been conned? And is he too late in any case, with Sophie having accepted a proposal of marriage from the foppy uke-serenading son of a rich family who promises her a life of indulgence and luxury? Besides, Stanley is engaged to a sophisticated woman back in England who by all logical reckoning is the perfect fit for him. And yet…
Woody’s creative tap has been running intermittently hot and cold for a long time now. Midnight In Paris hot. To Rome With Love cold. Blue Jasmine hot. Magic in the Moonlight? Warm.
Intriguing and entertaining throughout, the film works well narratively. There’s a sting in the tail that is predictable in its inevitability, but not in its manifestation. Well managed, in other words. Ditto the feel-good ending. Nothing wrong with that. It’s what you want from a rom-com, which this is, more or less.
Typical of recent Woody, the rom part is enhanced by the geographical, chronological and demographic setting: the French Riviera of the late 1920s habituated by the wealthy, the successful and the aspiring upwardly mobile. (On a less light-n-breezy note, the film opens in Berlin, where Stanley wows an enthralled crowd in his rather ridiculous stage persona as master magician Wei Ling Soo…not too much magic entertainment ahead in the 30s, although plenty of deceptive theatrics).
Typical also is the love match between a world-weary older guy reawakened to the joyous possibilities of life by a beautiful younger woman. Is Woody a masochist? Or perhaps he’s raising a middle finger to the critics queued up in advance to lambast and castigate him, yet again, for indulging and propagating, yet again, his old-goat-young-nymph love fantasy scenario. We live, after all, in the day of the cougar, not the old goat (hawk and spit).
The pairing works OK if you excise political correctness from the equation and accept the story on its own terms, due in no small part to the terrific performances of Emma Stone (especially) and Colin Firth, who delight in playing off against each other. There’s dramatic tension aplenty inherent in their characters and relationship: yin vs yang, the openness and optimism of youth vs the assumed wisdom and weary cynicism of age, romanticism vs rationalism.
The philosophical cat-and-mouse game that is the driving dynamic between the two leads is Woody’s bread and butter, and there are moments when his scripting sparkles. There is one irresistibly piquant scene near the end in which Stanley’s aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) strings him along, playing devil’s advocate as a love dilemma lands him in a head-heart battle with himself. However, there is a sense throughout much of the film that it is Woody who is waging this battle through his characters, who are sometimes relegated to philosophical mouthpieces, and thus hobbled. The actors come to the rescue, but it’s a challenging mission at times.
Magic in the Moonlight is a bit short on magic and moonlight, but it’s fun viewing and the takeaway message is familiar, digestible and comforting if you identify with Woody’s existentialist fretting – maybe even if you don’t.
Fans will chow down happily without waxing lyrical; detractors will scowl and pout and launch into their standard diatribes with gusto. No one loves to hate like a Woody-hater. It’s a win-win, when you think about it.
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