Woody Allen’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ is Nostalgic Delight

By Sandra Olmsted

Can a man who relies on reason really live without some sort of magic in his life, be that magic a belief in God, a spiritual wonder that some things can’t be explained, or real love for the first time? In Magic in the Moonlight, writer/director Woody Allen explores the need for a little “magic” in one’s life through the story of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), who is a renowned magician and debunker of fraudulent mediums, and Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a preternatural medium, who might be the real thing.

Although he plans to vacation with his wife, Stanley can’t resist playing hero when his old friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks Stanley to save the fabulously wealthy Catledge family from Sophie, an American medium who contacts the family’s deceased patriarch, a Pittsburgh industrialist. Stanley and Howard agree that Stanley, who performs his extremely popular magic act in yellowface as Wei Ling Soo, should claim to be an importer of coffee beans when he arrives at the Catledge’s house in the French countryside.

Upon meeting Stanley, Sophie detects something “oriental” about him, which unnerves Stanley just a bit. Determined to debunk Sophie’s magic in record time and get back to his vacation and wife, Stanley double his efforts at Sophie’s séance. The séance provides comfort to Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver) by allowing her to communicate with her husband; meanwhile, Brice (Hamish Linklater), the heir apparent to the Catledge fortune, falls head-over-heels in love with Sophie. While Brice throws lavish gifts at Sophie and serenades her on his ukulele, Sophie’s mother, Mrs. Baker (Marcia Gay Harden), an opportunistic stage mother, “protects” her daughter.

Soon Stanley manages to takes Sophie with him to visit his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) in Provence, and Sophie astounds him with her “knowledge” of Aunt Vanessa’s past. In fact, Stanley begins to believe there might be something more than the rational world, and when he and Sophie take shelter from a storm in a beautiful observatory, a bit of romance creeps into their relationship. Despite, or perhaps because of, the romantic interlude, Stanley continues his best efforts to unmask Sophie because he clings to his rational beliefs and because Howard and other Catledge family member express concern about Brice’s proposal to Sophie, who they suspect is a gold digger. However, again and again Sophie surprises Stanley with what she knows about people, including Stanley himself, and Sophie and her “gift” challenge everything Stanley believes.

Allen again proves what a fabulous writer and director he can be when he doesn’t also act, and, although Allen consistently deals with certain themes in his films, he now lets his male leads play the roles without Allen’s nebbish characterization. In this romantic comedy, Firth devours the role of Stanley and give one of his best comic performances. Stone delights in her role as an ingenue and perhaps a con artist. In fact, the entire cast consists of extremely talented actors and actresses worth seeing. Allen works with much of the same crew as he did in Midnight in Paris, including director of photography Darius Khondji, whose camera loves the gorgeous period costumes by Sonia Grande, gloriously detailed settings by production designer Anne Seibel, and the light of the summer days in France.

Set among the upper crust lounging in the South of France in the glow of 1920s opulence, Magic in the Moonlight, Allen’s 44th feature film, holds delights for those who revel in the nostalgia of the bygone era, the beauty of the French countryside, and an F. Scott Fitagerald-esque, Jazz Age feel to the characters and events. Even the music, which includes the American music of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Jerome Kern and the classical works of Beethoven and Stravinsky, Ravel, and Brecht, takes the viewer to another time. Magic in the Moonlight, a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment and smoking throughout and runs a breezy 97 minutes. Magic inthe Moonlight is in theaters now.


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