It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard Woody Allen fan. No shame. I have enjoyed pretty much all of his films. Yes, even most of his latest. Even TO ROME WITH LOVE and CASSANDRA’S DREAM. What fascinates me about the man is that every year he comes out with a new movie, and they’re usually pretty different from the last one. To be this prolific and versatile at nearly 80 years old….well, that’s just impressive. And in my opinion, he’s still very, very talented.
Sometimes, Woody makes smart, witty comedies. He can also make very serious dramas (BLUE JASMINE, INTERIORS), the occasional thriller (CASSANDRA’S DREAM, MATCH POINT), and other times he makes fluffy throwbacks to screwball comedies (SCOOP, THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION). His latest film, MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, falls into the latter category. He’s not trying to change the world here. He’s making a light, breezy comedy to make you smile.
The story takes place in 1920s Europe. Colin Firth plays a master magician named Stanley (his stage name is Wei Ling Soo, complete with Asian makeup). He’s a very cynical man who doesn’t believe in magic, and spirituality. He only believes in trickery. One day, an old colleague of Stanley’s approaches him with a proposition: To expose a supposed spiritual savant named Sophie (Emma Stone) who has convinced a rich family that she can contact the spirit world. Stanley takes to the challenge, and before you know it, he is constantly on the lookout for any trickery involved in her demonstrations. But when he can’t figure out how she does it, and with her mentioning things about himself that only he would know, he begins to questions his own beliefs….not to mention becoming quite smitten with Sophie.
This is exactly the type of screwball fluff that would have been found in cinemas during the 1930s. It definitely has that type of vibe going for it. I enjoyed this one more than his last, BLUE JASMINE. While I admire that film (it was marvelously acted), I enjoyed this one more. This is the perfect movie to see on a nice, breezy summer day. It’ll make you feel good.
Colin Firth is perfectly cast as the snooty magician Stanley. His performance is full of high energy, especially during the first half when he’s still cynical. I can’t believe that this is his first film for Woody, he’s a natural fit for his material, and I hope he continues to be in more of his work. Emma Stone also fits into Woody’s intellectual universe. She displays some great line delivery and comic timing. She also looks great in the 1920s period clothing (which is really well done). The chemistry between them during the first half while they’re at odds is wonderful, and reminded me a bit of Grant and Hepburn. The rest of the supporting cast serve the story fine, but didn’t really stand out, with the exception of Simon McBurney as Stanley’s colleague. I really like his unique looks and works well with Woody’s material. I always thought he looked sort of like Roman Polanski.
The script isn’t perfect, but how can it be when Woody is spitting them out once a year. It has some minor problems. Not in the first half though. The first half is wonderful, and really builds up nicely. The movie does switch gears halfway through, and turns into a different sort of movie: A morality tale. Now, this second half isn’t bad. It’s actually quite good, but the transition between the 2 halves were a little rough…meaning that their really isn’t any transition at all. I can’t really get into it without spoiling the movie, so I’ll just say that Stanley’s character transformation comes a little too quickly and the chemistry between him and Stone feels a bit forced. But only a bit. By the time the movie finished, I was still charmed by the whole aura of the film. And I did like the very last scene.
I hope it doesn’t sound like that I didn’t like the movie or was even disappointed. Because I did like the movie, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s just if the second half was as good as the first half, this could have been Woody’s best film in over a decade. But instead, it’s about on par with the rest of his recent films, which for me is just fine. There’s just something comforting about sitting in a theater and seeing that simplistic old school title font that he uses for every film, and the old music he uses. And the way the characters talk. No one talks that way. But it’s a different world. It’s a world that Woody has created with all of his films where people are over-intellectual and have witty comebacks for everything. I love that. And then by adding a whimsical, magical quality to this movie really worked for me. If you enjoyed SCOOP and CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION, I would give this a go. An all too familiar, but not any less enjoyable, light romantic comedy that they just don’t make anymore…..except for Woody.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13: for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout. (Please! I didn’t even hear any kind of suggestive comment, so if there was one, it probably wasn’t PG13 worthy. In fact, there was really no reason this couldn’t have been PG. The MPAA has always screwed with Woody and I’m getting pretty fucking tired of it)
– Running time: 1hr 36min.