Left to right: Emma Stone as Sophie and Colin Firth as Stanley
Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
2014, 97 minutes
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Review by Joshua Handler
Magic is primarily set in the south of France in the 1920s. It tells the story of Stanley (Colin Firth), a professional stage magician who travels to France to prove that a charming young medium, Sophie (Emma Stone), is a fraud after she reportedly performs miracles for rich families.
Colin Firth plays the fatalistic Woody Allen character beautifully while adding a bit of his own charm to the role. Stanley doesn't believe in magic yet would love to if it could be proved to be real because his life is full of doubt and hopelessness. As Sophie begins to amaze Stanley, his worldview begins to change, essentially turning him into a different person. Firth portrays this beautifully. He's very light on his feet, and this is something that he is not usually allowed to be in his films.
Emma Stone is wonderful as Sophie and looks like she's going to be Woody Allen's new muse, as she is already going to star in his next film. Stone brings an otherworldliness and sophisticated charm to the character that make her immediately lovable. She and Firth have excellent chemistry as well.
Magic in the Moonlight focuses on the unpredictability and magic of love. Love is something that just happens whether we want it to or not. I'm not trying to stir up controversy, but this film seems to be an explanation of why Allen fell for his wife. According to the film, love is not something one can plan for; when you fall for someone, it's perfectly natural and you should embrace it. I may be reading too far into this movie, but as I was sitting watching it, that is all I could think about.
Through the character of Stanley, Allen questions whether it's better to live life believing that there's no afterlife or better to believe in something that might not be real and live a happier life. This is a question that Allen has asked and explored in many of his other films, but never has he explored it as fully as he does here.
Allen hired Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, Amour, The Immigrant) back as director of photography. His work on this film is magnificent. Khondji captures the energy and natural beauty of the sun-drenched French Riviera. Many shots quite literally glow. Khondji's style isn't showy or pretentious, which allows us to revel in the beauty of each location.
While I enjoyed Magic in the Moonlight, it is not the best that Allen has made. It isn't even close. While it certainly has quite a bit on its mind and is entertaining enough, it simply doesn't do enough new or have enough energy to make it stand out in Allen's impressive filmography. While the story certainly takes a few very interesting turns and the themes are intriguing, the movie just doesn't have the passion that his best late-period work has. Blue Jasmine was lean, mean, and uncompromising. It was Allen's darkest film in years and was one of his sharpest character studies. Midnight in Paris is, in my estimation, one of his best works. While not on the Hannah and Her Sisters/Annie Hall level, it is up there because there's a sense of joy, love, and inventiveness in Midnight that isn't found in most of his other late-period work. Again, Magic in the Moonlight is good, but it isn't inventive and follows a similar trajectory to many of his other films.
Overall, Magic in the Moonlight will please Woody Allen fans and others who like the actors in the ensemble. The cast is rounded out with supporting turns from Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins (she's especially great), Marcia Gay Harden, and Hamish Linklater. I enjoyed this film, but wouldn't rush to see it again. It was far better than I expected, but will disappoint those looking for another Blue Jasmine.