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Magic in the Moonlight

In revisiting and reconceiving his long-running comedic love affair with hypnotists, illusionists, oriental mysteries, and the supernatural—previously in films such as Alice, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Scoop—Woody Allen's latest, Magic in the Moonlight, hits the spot as light-hearted summer fare. Set in 1928 and shot along the Côte d'Azur, the visuals alone would make this a fun ride; but, as always, it's Allen's story that is the centerpiece.

Emma Stone as Sophie and Colin Firth as Stanley
Emma Stone as Sophie
and Colin Firth as Stanley
Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a world famous magician and consumate rationalist who spends his free time debunking frauds. His boyhood friend, Howard (Simon McBurney), a less renowned magician, asks him to come to the south of France to expose a medium, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who, along with her battle-hardened mother (Marsha Gay Harden), is about to relieve an old family friend and matriarch, Grace, (Jacki Weaver) of her millions, via a fully funded institute and a marriage to her son, Brice (Hamish Linklater). Stanley decides to forgo a holiday with his betrothed, Oliva (Catherine McCormack), for the opportunity to uncloak a charlatan and visit his clever and witty Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), who raised him.

While some critics have taken issue with the melodramatic, tongue-in-cheek, style of the script, it not only fits the era, when vaudeville had not yet been eclipsed by the musical, but fits as well with another strong thread in Allen's work--his self-mocking pyschological self-talk. In this case, master illusionist Stanley's mental loops keep him locked in a mechanistic material worldview, where "What you see is what you get." However, as Allen has said of his own life, there's no accounting for the heart; it wants what it wants, regardless of common sense.

Allen's inner dialogue, in the hands of Firth, reveals Allen's growing capability for morphing his famous stand-up nebbish routine to fit a variety of archetypes, including sophisticated and handsome leading men.

Firth cooly dishes it out as an impossible egotist, disdaining the inferior mental processes of anyone who willingly buys into the invisible and inexplicable forces of a spirit world; that is, until he spends some time with Sophie. This is delicious! Stone's physical indications when she's picking up "vibrations"—rolled back eyes, arms akimbo—are hilarious, but her Sophie is no lightweight, as we see when she deftly pops Stanley's balloon, sending him to his aunt for advice.

As always, there are a host of excellent cameos—who wouldn't want to go to Provence and make a movie with Woody?—including McBurney's slick Howard, Harden's ball-busting Mrs. Baker, Weaver's hilarious Grace, Linklater's piteous Brice, and Atkins' sharp Aunt Vanessa.

Bob Bows

 

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