Woody Allen’s newest film, Magic in the Moonlight, has yet another appealing ensemble, this one featuring Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, and a handful of other beloved character actors. A 1928 period piece, the film follows Stanley (Firth), a famous magician, as he tries to expose Sophie (Stone), a mystic of increasing notoriety and a possible swindler. Set in the south of France, the film takes place between two houses: the house of Grace (Jacki Weaver), who wants Sophie to stay and help her connect with her late husband, and the house of Stanley’s aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), which Stanley frequently visits to get away from magic and process his thoughts.
Magic in the Moonlight is a very beautiful film in terms of its aesthetic, with its 1920s attire combined with a secluded scenic area of France, and then topped off with that era’s music. But the film is unfortunately not up to par with the quality of Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which was partially set around the same time, nor last year’s Blue Jasmine. It may be the jarring transitions where the 1920s big band music abruptly cuts into and out of the film. It may be the pace of the movie, which seems rushed and forced. Or it may be the fact that the film seems like it needs more than 97 minutes to tell its story. But if one can observe that it needs more time, then it must surely be a good film because that means it’s engaging? It admittedly is entertaining, but it feels as though it needs something more, something that Allen’s recent successes did manage to provide.
Of course it’s worth seeing because it’s a Woody Allen film and has a wonderful cast whose performances are all captivating, funny, welcoming, sarcastic, and pleasant to watch from scene to scene. The dialogue was fast-paced and packed, typical of a Woody Allen film, and Firth’s character is engaging and hilarious to watch as he continuously thinks out loud about his thought processes and inner struggle with logic, love, and the idea of magic. Linklater’s character, Brice, is particularly funny, as the actor is quite funny in person as well. Brice is determined to marry Sophie and endlessly showers her with gifts, newly written songs on his ukulele, and plans for their near future honeymoon. His rich, preppy school boy lifestyle adds another style of humor to the film in a way that Sophie, Stanley, and Brice’s mom, Grace, do not. These different character dynamics are reason enough to spend one’s money and view this film.
Magic in the Moonlight should be seen for its quick dialogue, stellar costume and set design, music, humor, and wonderful performances by each actor. Just don’t expect the film of the year, or to fall in love with it as much as one may have with his past few films. But all is well, as Allen is already in the midst of filming yet another movie, one that features Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Burzenski. So we can all wait with anticipation for that. And in the meantime, check out his Magic in the Moonlight for a more unique summer film than Transformers.
— Samantha Ladwig