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|Magic in the Moonlight|
dir-scr Woody Allen
prd Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
with Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeremy Shamos, Erica Leerhsen, Catherine McCormack, Didier Muller, Ute Lemper
release US 25.Jul.14, UK 19.Sep.14, Fr 22.Oct.14
Something in the air: Firth and Stone
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Woody Allen is in whimsical mode for this playful 1920s-set comedy about the clash between reason and romance. Cynics will find it rather corny and stilted, and indeed its choppy structure leaves the film feeling somewhat clunky. But the dialog is packed with hilarious lines and some genuinely challenging wordplay about the meaning of life.
Renowned as a Chinese magician who debunks fake psychics, Stanley (Firth) is asked by his old magician friend Howard (McBurney) to visit the French Riviera, where young mystic Sophie (Stone) has convinced a wealthy American (Weaver) that she can speak to her dead husband, while seducing eligible nice-but-dim scion Brice (Linklater). So Stanley obscures his identity to unmask Sophie as a fraud. Surprisingly, her visions are increasingly difficult to disprove, and by opening himself to the possibility that magic could be real, Stanley's arrogantly pessimistic opinion of humanity begins to fall apart.
The loose rom-com plot is subtly clever, with some fiendishly smart twists and side characters who add to the story's sarcastic tone. As Firth's beloved Aunt Vanessa, Atkins gets the film's best role as a woman who communicates mainly through bone-dry wit. By contrast, the superb Harden is marginalised in the thankless role of Sophie's showbiz manager mum. But then the film's focus is on the to and fro between the cold-hearted Stanley and the radiant Sophie. And clearly a love story between them would be utterly irrational.
All of this is edited together stiffly, which essentially reduces the story to a series of blackout scenes. And while cinematographer Darius Khondji beautifully captures each ray of sunshine along the Mediterranean coastline, he can't disguise the film's oddly limited locations (just one stretch of winding road is used over and over again). As in some other Allen movies, the performances feel somewhat inconsistent, especially as Stone overplays Sophie's visions (although that's clearly intentional) and Firth underplays Stanley's buttoned-up cynicism.
Allen is on one of his favourite themes here, wrestling with the jarring contradictions between science, religion and human emotion. The character types are somewhat simplistic (repressed posh Brit versus free-flowing Yank) but the banter is packed with knowing barbs, some strikingly astute observations and, of course, the creeping hint of an unlikely romantic connection between Stanley and Sophie. It's not terribly complicated, but it's thoroughly enjoyable if you let yourself go with it.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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