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Movie Review: “Magic in the Moonlight”

Movie Review: “Magic in the Moonlight”
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Woody Allen churns out films at an alarming rate. And at this point, one has to wonder whether
the lure of an exotic location might be more of an incentive for his film-making than a well-crafted script.
As a fan, I enjoy even Allen’s weaker output, among which I would place “Magic
in the Moonlight”. It is full of Allen-esque bons mots and philosophical musings but it has the
distinct feel of déjà vu, as if he were recycling moments from other better films.

Set on the Cote d’Azur in the late twenties it involves a Houdini-like illusionist who enjoys
debunking the scam spiritualists who prey on the gullible rich. Colin Firth plays Stanley,
the stage entertainer who is under no illusion about magic, telepathy or clairvoyance. He is
pragmatic, blunt and pompous…a Henry Higgins just waiting to be saved by his flower girl.

She arrives in the shape of Sophie (Emma Stone) a young, self-professed seer who facilitates
spiritual seances with the help of her mother played by Marcia Gay Harden (who criminally has
nothing to do in this movie!). Sophie has enchanted a wealthy widow (Jacki Weaver) who wants
to contact her late husband, and in the doing, has seduced her drip of a son (Hamish Linklater,
quite good). They are poised to become affianced but it’s a sure bet they are a mismatch, not
least because he woos her on his ukulele, surely the most unmanly of musical instruments.

When Stanley arrives on the scene he is at first cynical about Sophie’s talents. But as he
announces that “she won’t fool me”, it’s pretty clear what is going to happen before the closing
credits. But Allen doesn’t quite pull off a satisfactory “gotcha” moment, and by making Stanley
an arrogant ass, we are left wondering who in fact would make a good match for Sophie.

Using magic as a stand-in for God and Meaning in the Universe gives Allen good opportunity
to take a dig at religion and man’s need to find a reason for life. Stanley poo-poos it all….”The
gullible are desperate for hope in a world that has none” he brags, sure that he will not be the one
being hoodwinked anytime soon. But when his beloved aunt (Eileen Atkins) is gravely injured in
an automobile accident, is it his prayers or simply good doctors who save her life?

Meaty questions about existence don’t make a flowing, cohesive screenplay however, and despite
the intriguing ideas, the dialogue never quite soars. The actors almost seem to be mouthpieces,
espousing a particular side of the spiritual argument. Firth, evoking Rex Harrison in gait and
diction is lovely to watch. But I wish the age difference hadn’t been so striking between him
and Stone. With all of Allen’s personal life on display in the tabloids, this is an unfortunate
occurrence that can’t help but trigger unsavory mental connections.

That aside, it’s a pleasant enough movie-going experience and the beautiful locations and
period details don’t hurt. But these days, after a late career resurgence with “Blue Jasmine” and
“Midnight in Paris” we expect a lot more from Woody Allen. “Magic in the Moonlight” will go
down as a charming, but forgettable excursion in between more important work.

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