'Magic in the Moonlight'
If you like Woody Allen enough to follow his career, you know that since the 1980s he’s alternated between interesting films and minor wisps. With last year’s ‘Blue Jasmine’ qualifying as possibly his best film in a decade, it was inevitable that his follow-up ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ would be more of a minor romp. Thankfully, it’s not a disaster of ‘Scoop’ proportions. In fact, it’s rather charming and amusing as long as you don’t expect much.
This time, Colin Firth stars as the unofficial Woody Allen stand-in. He’s a famous magician who tours the world pretending to be an Asian mystic (which would be offensive were it not sadly period accurate). When he’s not doing tricks on stage, Firth likes to debunk anyone claiming to have mystical powers. He’s one of those cynical, pragmatic, skeptical types who can’t abide anyone pretending that the world extends beyond the logical and the rational. One day, a friend invites him out to a country mansion to meet a new young psychic who seems legit. Firth of course doesn’t believe and comes out armed to sneer and dismiss. One problem: that young psychic is Emma Stone, and like the rest of the world, Firth pretty much instantly falls in love with her. He even starts to think she might actually have a psychic gift, but is that really the case, or could the irrational joys of love be screwing up his rational mind? Hmmmm….
‘Magic in the Moonlight’ is a pretty predictable, yet cutely clever rom-com in the standard Woody Allen mode. The lost-in-time filmmaker obviously enjoys playing around with the 1920s period setting, and also throws his actors plenty of the barbs and one-liners that he’s known for. Firth proves to be one of the better Woody Allen surrogates in recent memory. His embittered, self-satisfied, frightfully upper-crust Brit routine slides into Allen’s vocal ticks with ease, and Firth’s hilariously snide performance carries the movie (though weirdly, Owen Wilson continues to be the finest faux Woody of the 2000s). Emma Stone works her smile, charisma and comedy chops for all their worth. It’s very easy to fall in love with the leads as they fall in love with each other. The film is undeniably a lark for Allen. Thankfully, the fun he’s clearly having carries over into delightful fun for the audience as well.
Aside from watching two appealing actors charm the pants off the audience and each other in between choice one-liners, the film also offers a nice little message about the importance of embracing the irrationality of love. It ain’t much, but it gives Allen some sense of purpose beyond laughs, and he needs that to make something even remotely memorable.
As a minor Woody Allen entry, all of the usual flaws apply. The pacing is from another era in cinematic storytelling, the actors’ reverence for Woody’s dialogue often leads to stilted deliveries, the one-and-done master shot visuals get tiresome, and there’s very little to the movie beyond the surface. This is one of those Woody Allen movies that was made just for his cult. If you like what Woody does, you’ll get a kick out of ‘Magic in the Moonlight’. If you don’t, you won’t and might even hate it. That’s all there is to it. Even though it’s a simple little lark, those of us who bought our ticket for the Woody Allen train long ago know that there’s no need to worry about that. Allen will have another movie out next year like clockwork. Maybe that’ll be his next great film. Even if not, there will be another movie to look forward to the following year until the day he dies.