Woody Allen ignites big screen magic once again on the very same day his not-so-long-running Broadway musical Bullets Over Broadway was officially reported to be closing. The old adage remains true that as one door closes another certainly opens. Allen’s Magic In The Moonlight is 97 minutes of sheer, understated big screen magic that is enchanting to watch. The film is highlighted by performances from his master-thespian-highness Academy Award winner Colin Firth (The Kings Speech), with supporting performances from other industry heavyweights including Academy and Tony award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock and God Of Carnage).
Written and directed by Allen, Magic In The Moonlight is set in the south of France circa 1932. It is an enchanting romantic comedy that stars Colin Firth as Stanley, a demanding and self-absorbed Englishman who has established a thriving career as a master magician named Wei Ling Soo. Wei Ling Soo is, by appearances, of Chinese descent. Once the make-up comes off the great Wei Ling Soo reveals the cynical and irritable, if not narcissistic, Stanley, who berates his female assistants and brow-beats his musical director.
As Wei Ling Soo’s face is stripped down to bear the countenance of Firth as Stanley, the character is rendered just a tad more palatable. He is visited by an admiring long-time friend and fellow magician named Howard (Simon McBurney) who showers Stanley with unyielding praise.
The great Wei Ling Soo is also a renown debunker of psychics and mediums, and Howard invites him to come to France to debunk a lovely young medium named Sophie (Emma Stone) who appears to be the real deal. Stanley agrees and sets off to France with Howard to visit the wealthy family that has become ensnared by Sophie’s accurate assertions and youthful, blue-eyed allure.
The young family heir named Brice (Hamish Linklater) has become so smitten with Sophie that he plans to propose marriage and promote her spiritual gift the world over. Certainly Stanley must save this family from Sophie’s cunning foolery. But perhaps Sophie is indeed a legitimate gifted psychic who will, in one fell swoop, level all that Stanley has come to believe and endorse.
Firth, as Stanley, is not surprisingly a pleasure to watch. In his own element portraying an Englishman, Firth emerges once again in an understated performance that envelopes and carries the already believable production. Simon McBurney as Howard also delivers a memorable performance under the expert direction of Allen.
While Marcia Gay Harden’s role as Sophie’s mother, Mrs. Bake,r is fairly muted, Harden’s on-screen presence never ceases to command attention. She is a strategically placed small gem in an already brilliant setting.
Emma Stone (The Help and The Amazing Spider-Man) is utterly delightful as Sophie. Brimming over with natural, youthful beauty, Emma Stone is an Academy Award winner waiting to happen. Stone’s performance as Sophie is also understated and yet chock full of whimsy. She believably stands toe-to-toe alongside Firth in a surprising, but refreshing compatibility of youth meets middle-age. The casting was on the mark from every performance angle.
Woody Allen has stood the test of time through personal and professional trials and remains at the top of his craft. Already noted for his period pieces, Magic In The Moonlight is certain to be listed among one of his best productions. In the past some of Allen’s productions have been ridden with wordy and contrived dialogue. He now seems to be mastering the less-is-more approach. This almost does not feel at all like an Allen production and that is not a bad thing. This lighthearted and majestic romantic comedy wins via Allen’s more genteel writing and direction.
Magic In The Moonlight is now playing in limited release in selected cities and theaters. Allen is currently working on a new untitled film slated to be released in 2015.
Four out of five stars.
Review By Janet Walters Levite