Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Magic in the Moonlight is a trifle. But it's a Woody Allen trifle, which means it twinkles.
It should please its target audience, as well as those looking for easy escapism.
In Magic in the Moonlight, Woody takes his moveable feast to the south of France in the 1920s. It's an appealing setting, and the cinematography by Darius Khondji is evocative.
Magic in the Moonlight is personal, clever, but a bit thin.
It's the story of an extremely rational man challenged by the irrational. The arch believer in rationality is Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), who is enlisted by friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to expose a clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone). She is successfully vending her charms and spells.
Stanley is a famed conjurer who performs on the London stage as Wei Ling-soo in Asian costume and make-up. Howard, a fellow illusionist, has been unable to reveal Sophie as a fraud. Stanley is cockily convinced he easily will prove Sophie is a charlatan.
But when he meets Sophie in the south of France, she proves to be a greater challenge than he imagined. He's baffled at a seance she performs for a wealthy widow (Jacki Weaver) seeking to contact her late husband. Instead of finding any clues to defame Sophie, Stanley begins to doubt his own certainty. He questions his absolute belief in rationality.
The widow's son Brice (Hamish Linklater) is totally smitten with Sophie and wants to marry her on a huge yacht and take her on a grand honeymoon.
Everything is in fickle flux.
Ironically, 65 minutes into the screening I attended, the digital picture jumped back to the beginning. Ah, the magic of digital. It jumped back again, so the remainder of the screening was postponed.
I had a few days to ponder how Woody might end his film. I had at least four different possibilities.
When I saw the last part of the film, it had a soft ending. Woody turned out to be a softie. The conclusion makes sense, but it's almost generic. It's pleasing, but in a superficial way.
In Magic in the Moonlight, Colin Firth is an apt speaker of Woody's at times sparkling dialogue. Woody uses multi-syllabic words. That scamp.
Woody is celebrated for his roles for women, but recently he has created some buoyant male characters. Owen Wilson was ideal as Woody in Paris - in Midnight in Paris (2011). In Magic in the Moonlight, Firth is an ideal urbane Woody.
Firth is an actor who is protecting language from web-tigers at the gates - e.g., The King's Speech (2010) to Magic in the Moonlight.
Emma Stone makes a credible Sophie. Allen emphasizes her smile. The age difference between Stone and Firth is notable. The Asian reference also may be personal. And, a line such as, "Don't you ever think of me as a woman?" could resonate between an actress and director.
Hamish Linklater portrays Brice, the ukulele-strumming twit. [It's hard to forget the image of Linklater in tv's The Newsroom, where he played a shallow creep.]
Eileen Aikens is effective as Stanley's wise aunt.
Magic in the Moonlight is like an introductory magic kit.
It's simple, but it's fun.