Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight is solid, charming proof that sometimes, life’s magic can’t be explained. Starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone as a skeptical magician and raving spiritualist, respectively, the story is a brief, unexpected romantic comedy set in the French Riviera in the 20s. What ensues is wildly inspiring, raucously funny and, in typical Allen style, unabashedly witty.
The tale begins with a performance by Wei Ling Soo, a world-renowned illusionist and the alter-ego of Colin Firth’s Stanley. Howard, a childhood friend and fellow magician – played by Simon McBurney – approaches Stanley in his dressing room and asks that he accompany him to the home of the Catledges, a well-off American family. There, he says, is a clairvoyant by the name of Sophie, flawlessly adapted by Emma Stone. Howard claims he has been unable to debunk Sophie’s secrets and hopes that Stanley will be able to do so more successfully.
There’s a lot of buildup to the audience finally meeting Sophie, and very purposefully so. Various characters are seen in amazed exclamation, uttering the likes of, “She’s a visionary and a vision!” Upon her arrival, though, hilarity immediately follows as she contorts her face and begins blabbering prophecies. Stanley remains skeptical throughout various side-splitting moments – who could resist a séance scene in which Mrs. Catledge’s “deceased husband” responds to her questions by knocking once for “yes” and twice for “no?” Stanley’s attitude finally turns around, though, when Sophie recalls the fact that his uncle died “by water.” Soon enough, he’s babbling along with the rest of them: “The more I watch her, the more I’m stumped,” he says. “Could she be real?”
Throughout it all, as Stanley discovers a new appreciation for life and literally stops to smell the roses, a complex love story brews under the surface. The Catledge’s son, Brice, proposes to Sophie with the oh-so-cheesy promise of ukulele serenades, fine clothing and trips to exotic locales. Meanwhile, Stanley is engaged to a woman who is “too competent” and “good at everything.” In stereotypical rom-com fashion, though, Sophie begins to fall for Stanley. When she tries to prompt him to admit feelings for her, he only rebukes her emotions, saying, “Isn’t it enough that you’ve opened my eyes to the joy of living? You’ve opened my eyes and now you need to open my heart?” It’s painful for the audience to watch; Sophie’s dreamlike lust for life is entirely refreshing against the backdrop of Stanley’s pessimism, and you can’t help but hope she’ll continue to change him.
Perhaps the wildest, most purely comical moment of the film is the scene in which Stanley prays for his Aunt Vanessa to recover from the critical condition she’s in – the first time Stanley prays in his entire life. After a few moments, however, he mumbles and curses at himself for believing Sophie’s debauchery, ultimately committing to reveal her fraudulence.
One rejected proposal, one uncovered scheme and one kiss later, the story is concluded with a much needed “pie in the face.” Any viewer of this unapologetically quaint film won’t be able to avoid leaving the theater with lighthearted feelings of faith in fate, romance and even the supernatural. Plus, the magic of this movie is all in the details: the smoky jazz tunes, the whimsical twenties frocks, the sharp moments that don’t further the plot. One of the best? When Stanley tells Sophie she looks prettiest at 8:20 p.m., to which she retorts she’s barely visible at that time. Stanley pushes the moment by uttering that she “must have moved mountains” to look so beautiful. It’s these moments that make the movie an Allen classic rather than one of his infamous career flops. Do I recommend this movie? Absolutely. I’m knocking once.
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