“Magic in the Moonlight” (2014)
Stanley (Colin Firth) is one of the world’s greatest magicians, and he knows it. He practices his profession, like so many of his peers in the age of the roaring twenties, in disguise, posing as a Chinese mystic named Wei Ling Soo. Stanley is used to performing in front of large crowds, and his ego is almost as big as the theaters he performs in. His signature trick is making a live elephant disappear from the stage. While audiences love Stanley, he has a reputation of demanding perfection from his assistants and looks down on his adoring public.
Stanley is visited backstage by a fellow magician, Howard (Simon McBurney). While friends, it is very apparent that Stanley sees Howard not as a rival but as a lesser magician. Howard wants Stanley to put off his vacation with his fiancé and come help him expose a spiritualist that is living with friends of Howard. Howard concerned that the spiritualist has worked her way into the good graces of his friends and is worried that she is about to swindle them for a hefty sum. He knows this is Stanley’s weak spot, having made it his lifework to expose the seers and charlatans who claim that they can communicate with the dead. Stanley agrees to the challenge, mostly because he thinks he can expose the spiritualist.
Stanley and Howard travel to the coast of France to the estate of a wealthy widow and her family. The widow is so enamored with the spiritualist that she has pledged to set up an institute of spiritual study. Soon Stanley is introduced to Sophie (Emma Stone) and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). From the start, it is evident that Sophie is smart, quick with a retort and a match for the observant stills of Stanley. Stanley soon witnesses Sophie’s spiritualist act and he confesses to Wally that he can’t find any trick that she is doing during the séance. The more they converse, the more Sophie tells Stanley facts about his life that only his closest friends would know. Could Sophie be the real thing, someone who can talk to the dead? It could challenge everything that Stanley believes to be true.
Woody Allen brings us another one of his films set in Europe, having, for the most part, given up making films in the U.S., the exception being last years “Blue Jasmine.” This time it’s the coast of France in the 1920s, a world of afternoon teas, drives along the coast in convertibles and fancy dinner parties where everyone wears formalwear. This film started so promising with wonderful magic tricks performed in front of an audience but as soon as the film goes to the coast, it bogs down in very unfunny quips between Stanley and Sophie, as they spar over the possibility of being able to communicate with the afterlife.
I did like the interaction between Stanley and Howard, which is amusing as both actors establish an uneasy working alliance between the two rival magicians, with Howard playing the subservient role. Stone and Firth work well together and make a nice contrast of the all-American girl going up against the stuffy Brit. The biggest problem with this film is the age difference between Firth and Stone. I realize the “Pygmalion” style relationship that two have with the spiritualist being instructed by the magician in life foibles, but the romance between the two feels wrong and is never charming as Allen probably meant it to be.
It’s a beautiful film to watch as Cinematographer Darius Khondji, uses light wonderfully to give us the full beauty of the French coastline. Most of the film takes place outside, as if Allen said that surely these rich people would have understood that they were in a place of incredible scenery.
Allen’s storyline is simple, and its plot is easy to figure out, with the script just not matching the quality of the cast. Any film dealing with a magician should be full of wonder and surprises. Unfortunately, this film feels about as original as pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I think Mr. Allen needed a few more rewrites to the script and a much younger male lead to make this film even comes close to working. My Rating: Bargain Matinee
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“Magic in the Moonlight” is currently playing at Atlanta area theatres.
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