Movie review: Woody Allen still finds some 'Magic'

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“Magic in the Moonlight,” the new Woody Allen romantic comedy set in the south of France, is the movie equivalent of a fruity, sweet smoothie with a curlicue of whipped cream on top. It’s not terribly nutritious or filling but it’s (mostly) fun while it lasts.

It’s no “Blue Jasmine,” but it’s not intended to be, either. “Magic in the Moonlight” dabbles in such subjects as magic, clairvoyance, the existence of an afterlife, prayer and, as befitting the romance part of the equation, love.

“Magic” is beautiful to look at, providing a vicarious vacation to another time (1928), place and social class where Colin Firth can don a tuxedo and a lighter role than what he has tackled of late.  

'Magic in the Moonlight' movie trailer

A romantic comedy about an Englishman brought in to help unmask a possible swindle. Personal and professional complications ensue.

“The King’s Speech” Oscar winner plays Stanley Crawford, a magician who performs as Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo. The Englishman’s talent, tricks and ego are all big, making an elephant disappear on stage in front of a packed hall of admirers, for instance.

An old friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), greets him after a show by observing, “You’re still a perfectionist, a snob and a genius,” with all the charms of a typhus infection. But he is also the king of debunkers of fake mediums and Howard knows a rich American family with Pittsburgh roots who could use his help in France.

The socialites have fallen under the spell of a luminous young clairvoyant, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has arrived with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) in tow. The rich matriarch (Jacki Weaver) hopes Sophie can contact her late husband through a seance and one of the sons, Brice (Hamish Linklater) is smitten.

‘Magic in the Moonlight’

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver.

Rating: PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout.

Stanley, masquerading as a businessman, goes to the Riviera to expose the fake spiritualist. After all, he insists, “I am a rational man who believes in a rational world” but he is stunned by what Sophie can divine about him and others, including his beloved aunt (Eileen Atkins) who lives nearby. 

He begins to fall under Sophie’s charms and powers and, to his utter amazement, considers the possibility that Sophie could be the real deal. That would mean, gulp, there is an afterlife and possibly a God.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” which engages in sleight of hand and heart, places period-costumed characters in some lovely settings as they walk through an archway crowned by red roses or sun themselves on rocks along the deep blue sea or glory in the moonlight and stars.  

The filmmaker, 78, is no stranger to stories about magicians (he once said he might have become a magician, had he not gotten sidetracked), hypnotists, healers or fortune tellers, or ruminations about love, death or middle-age or older men drawn to younger women.

It’s interesting to note that Mr. Firth is 53, Ms. Stone is 25 and Ms. Harden, 55, but no one would think of pairing the actors who are virtually the same age. And the story is like a hot-air balloon that drifts into the sky in hypnotic fashion but, at one point, begins to lose altitude and slowly sinks back to Earth.

Nevertheless, it’s still a modest summer treat. Woody Allen movies are like cupcakes or vacation days. Even the ones that don’t live up to their promise are welcome and occasionally delightful.


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