It’s no secret that I’m a fan of many of Woody Allen’s films. Midnight in Paris (2011) is one of my favourite movies, and certainly my favourite of Woody’s work. Manhattan and Annie Hall are classics, and I have a soft spot for Vicki Cristina Barcelona and Blue Jasmine too. I was, then, very excited when I heard about Magic in the Moonlight. Its advertised tone sounded like it could resemble Midnight in Paris, whimsical and dream-like, and I was happy about that. With a cast that intrigued me, also on board, this was one of the films I was most excited for in 2014.
It’s a romance, it’s a comedy and it has elements of fantasy and drama too, but at its core, this is a true love story, something Woody Allen is very good at, though he is also very adept at disguising his love stories as something else, something different, and not just run-of-the-mill and obvious. There is a sarcasm and reluctance to Woody Allen’s love stories. His romance is pessimistic and his declarations of love are made with a harsh frog in the throat of whomever delivers it. This is something I love about Woody’s work, and something that sets him apart from the pack, and has for decades.
Here, we meet Stanley (Colin Firth), a professional magician who is successful in his field and who has also made it part of his life to “out” or reveal spiritualists as the “frauds” he claims them to be. He is, through a magician friend of his, introduced to Sophie (Emma Stone) who states that she is a psychic with a sixth sense that allows her access to another plain of existence, giving her knowledge of people as well as an ability for reaching out to the deceased. Initially reluctant to believe any of what she says, Stanley spends time with Sophie, and the more he does, the more he begins to ponder that she may actually be what she says she is. His conflicting mind fights with feelings in his heart, all the while juggling his professional career, his engagement to an unseen fiancée, and the fact that he has spent his entire career proclaiming people like Sophie to be utterly fraudulent.
That’s basically the premise, though there are side characters that come into the tale, offering various moments, and characters that bring a richness to the story. Firth and Stone though, the hearts of the film, are fantastic. Colin Firth (Love Actually) delivers his dialogue with a gust of dry sarcasm and hesitant distrust and is just brilliant as Stanley. He brings a lot of humour to the table, and his chemistry with Stone’s Sophie is really nice to watch. Emma Stone (Easy A) is an actress I enjoy, but have never really had a chance to see her in roles of the more quirky kind until now. She brings a magical naivety and open-minded and kind-heartedness to Sophie that makes the character instantly likeable and connectable, and provides a vivid contrast to Firth’s reclusive and arrogant Stanley. It’s negativity meets positivity in a beautiful, Summery and ethereal looking landscape. The setting of a beautiful cottage in the South of France, where we spend most of our time, is gorgeous and adds a fuzzy-edged enchantment to the imagery, giving the movie that fantastical and romantic edge. The remainder of the cast, which includes Marcia Gay Harden (Into the Wild) Catherine McCormack (Braveheart) as Olivia, Hamish Linklater (Lola Versus) as Brice and Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) as Grace, do a great job. It’s a big cast, many of whom are familiar faces from various walks of cinema, and it breaths a depth into the film, which is really merely a snapshot of a story, taking place in a little snippet of time in the lives of these characters.
I was really impressed with this film. It isn’t my favourite Woody Allen movie, but then again I have only seen it once, and I always revisit his films. It might not be the most unpredictable or ground-breaking film, but I don’t think it was designed to be such a thing. Still, it falls into his better recent output, along with Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris, away from the disappointing To Rome with Love. If you’re a fan of Allen, then you should enjoy this, but if you’re not, I’d still say it’s worth your time, for sure. It is one of the more accessible of Allen’s films, if you are yet to watch any of his work. It looks beautiful, it is acted brilliantly, and the story is enchanting and entertaining from start to finish.