On the surface, there seems nothing particularly special about Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen’s latest foray into intelligent romance. However, I quite liked the movie and even found it mesmerizing. However, it appears that I am in the minority. Let’s find out why. Now, I admit, there’s a little creepy element to it given the 28 year difference between Colin Firth’s age, albeit, he’s aging disgustingly well, and Emma Stone’s in a romantic relationship. This is made even more creepy by Mr. Allen’s personal history with the adopted daughter of his erstwhile partner Mia Farrow. (Of course, this isn’t the first time Mr. Allen has had wildly divergent ages between the love interests, often including himself.)
Was it the surprising plot twists that made it intriguing? Well, while there were a couple of small surprises, over all, you knew where the plot was heading. Was it the chemistry between Mr. Firth and Ms. Stone? Not so much. While that was mostly on purpose (I’ll get to that later), there wasn’t much of a spark there. The joy comes from the cast and the overall ambiance of the film – costumes, cinematography,music, manners and the times. This ties into expectations for the film; Magic in the Moonlight seems to me to be a relatively light, bon bon of a film that’s more about characters and sketching vignettes than big, broad comedy or a brilliant film with poignant pokes at society. It’s really about getting the measure of a sliver of time with its people and places more than anything else. Some might not find that worthwhile, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Notwithstanding Mr. Firth’s and Ms. Stone star power, like many of Mr. Allen’s films, this felt like an ensemble cast. Indeed, Eileen Atkins seemed to steal every scene during which she has screen time. David Thomson, of the National Review, suggests, along with this being Woody Allen’s worst movie, that Ms. Atkins was fed only boorish dialog to inflict upon the poor, innocent viewer where she unsubtly hammered her point to look beyond the here and now in a calculus of self-interest. Maybe, but what I mostly saw was this lovely relationship with her nephew with her taking some delight in him finally getting a life. I love that it was said from the side whilst culling flowers, rather than face on. There was the main conversation with this side dialogue about his loosening up. I found myself drawn to her dominating the landscape even while more well-know and prettier stars fluttered about. Mostly, however, I mean that the entire bench was incredibly deep in this film. Simon McBurney’s deftly played Howard Burkan was spot on. I’m not sure how this could have been played better. Hamish Linklater’s love-besotted Brice was great, even with vibrato-laced singing and questionable Ukulele playing. Even roles with little screen time like Mrs. Baker (Marcia Gay Harden) and Caroline (Erica Leerhsen) did all that their roles required and more. In very brief dialog, Ms. Harden’s conning skills come to the fore and Ms. Leerhsen provides a clear portrait of a girl of her times and class with breezy grace.
Turning to our protagonists, Stanley (Colin Firth) and Sophie (Emma Stone), we are presented with broad-stroke archetypes that slowly become fleshed out as real people. Stanley presents the hard-boiled man of science who suggests that’s incompatible with any belief of what cannot be measured; he is pitted against a putative spiritualist in the form of a distractingly pretty girl. She is quick and comfortable with herself even if she hasn’t been raised as a lady of leisure. For much of this film, the dynamic is hunter and hunted/ detective and charlatan. Any seductive attempts are merely another weapon to be used in this game of cat and mice. Both Stanley and Sophie are pragmatic people, in their own ways. So while the characters relationship spark was dim at best, their inability to demonstrate emotional connection seems in step with their characters even if makes for a bit duller movie.
A bit more surprising, Mr. Thomson states: “Then where is the moonlight, and why has cinematographer Darius Khondji been hired to photograph the south of France when Allen can hardly seem bothered with it?” Um, did he see the shots along the beach, the vistas from the house, the gardens, the dance scene or the, well, everything? I’m not sure what his hopes were, but the whole look and feel of Magic in the Moonlight was mesmerizing from the costumes to cars or the jazz club to the observatory. The world Mr. Allen created was as much a character in the film as Howard. This film, like an impressionist painting, captured a world in a moment and a beautiful moment it was.
So while this may not be winning any acting or directing Oscars, I would rather sit through a couple hours of the light fun, sometimes wit and stark beauty of this film than many including just about any Transformers movie. I guess Mr. Thomson requires a director to knock it out the park or go home. I think as nice double will just fine thank you. To put it another way, I would be more than delighted to see it again. I commend it to your viewing pleasure.