MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Magic In The Moonlight’


Film: Magic In The Moonlight
Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone
Directed by: Woody Allen

A year after delivering the award-winning Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen is back with a far simpler tale of life, love, and the funny things people will do for money.

Magic In The Moonlight stars Colin Firth as Stanley, an aging magician whose seemingly lost his ability feel even the slightest bit of whimsy toward life. His career has plateau’d, much like his marriage, and try as he might he cannot help feeling overly pessimistic about everything around him. In short, he’s your typical Woody Allen stand-in.

One night following a successful performance in a vibrant European city, Stanley is greeted in his dressing room by an old friend who has come to catch up and talk business. It seems his friend has come across a girl in the south of France who is making a living by fooling rich people into believing she not only receives visions from the divine, but that she is also able to communicate with the dead. Stanley’s friend had been hired to expose the young woman as a fraud, but try as he might he cannot figure out how her so-called magic works. He asks Stanley if he will travel back with him and assist in exposing the girl, which is an offer Stanley cannot wait to accept.

Walking into Magic In The Moonlight I was unsure of what to expect. The promotional campaign for the film lead me to believe it was another romantic tale littered with comedic moments, and while that is accurate to an extent it also overlooks the deeper, far more metaphysically-obsessed side of the story. Stanley finds pleasure in exposing frauds like the woman he’s heard about in the south of France because he believes that all of life’s greatest mysteries are a fraud. He doesn’t believe in God or Heaven, or even an afterlife in general. There is no fate or wizard behind the scenes making life work in his mind. He feels we exist for nothing and we die for even less, so why worry about a silly thing like happiness?

Stanley’s worldview begins to change, however, when he arrives on the southern coast of France under a false identity and first encounters the beautiful Sophie. She is younger and more quick-witted than Stanley expected, but he makes every effort to let her know he is not buying into anything she has to say, even after she describes several revealing details about his true identity. Every bone in his body tells him she is a fraud, albeit a charming one, and he spends every moment possible attempting to find cracks in what most seem to believe is a flawless presentation. Surprisingly, he finds nothing of the sort.

Emma Stone plays the role of Sophie, which allows the twenty-something actress room to express more of her immense talent than the vast majority of her work in recent years. She’s beautiful and clever, but also shy and guarded. In the time it takes you to read this very sentence she could turn you from a non-believer into someone convinced there are powers in this world we do not fully comprehend, and she might even manage to make you fall in love with her as well. If not, her ever-present and horribly selfish mother will make sure you regret wasting their time.

Blue Jasmine was a film that succeeded as much because of its lead as it did because of its strong supporting cast, and Magic In The Moonlight is no different, though the cast size is noticeably smaller. Eileen Atkins has a remarkable turn as Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa, serving as both his confidant and guiding light through troubled times. Additionally, Hamish Linklater, in the role of a man smitten by Sophie’s charm, is an irresistible comedic delight armed with a ukulele and silly songs that add amusing flourishes to an already spellbinding feature.

With 1927 serving as the setting for this little tale, Magic In The Moonlight transports audiences back in time with vibrant colors, beautiful cars, and a unique sense of fashion that brings to mind the kind of love stories told with Fred Astaire in the lead role. It’s not too far distant time-wise from certain Midnight In Paris sequences, but given the rural setting it looks like an entirely different universe. For those who cannot afford a proper vacation, but want to take in the sights rich people enjoy every day, this film offers eye candy galore that comes coupled with equally gorgeous and time appropriate music.

This is not a perfect film, though I think the argument could be made that it’s still well within the realm of cinematic greatness. The simplistic nature of the story that makes the film unique in a summer overrun with large-scale epics also causes the pacing to run out of gas about fifteen minutes before finally crossing the finish line. Allen makes it a point to add a fun third act twist (or three), which certainly saves the overall momentum from crashing altogether, but there will no doubt be some who start to feel the discomfort of cineplex seats before the screen fades to black.

Thanks to an unbelievable run of somehow managing to create and release a new movie every year, Woody Allen is quickly nearing his fiftieth feature film by sharing whatever story speaks to him. Magic in The Moonlight is not the greatest story he’s ever told, but it’s far from the worst, and more importantly it’s immeasurably better than virtually anything else playing in theaters today (with the exception of Boyhood). Younger audiences may find the simplicity of the whole affair a bit too droll for their tastes, but those able to appreciate a good story told well will find plenty to love in this feature. It’s not a film you absolutely must see in theaters, but only a fool would let the year end without making time for Woody Allen’s latest cinematic gift to the world.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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