Jul 27, 2014

Magic In The Moonlight

Very enjoyable, gorgeous on the eyes (cinematography by Darius Khondji) and better written than usual, this new romantic comedy by Woody Allen concerns itself with questions about the existence of God and the validity of spirituality. Its flimsy plot is helped enormously by the inspired casting of Colin Firth as Stanley, aka Wei Ling Soo, (in the roaring 20's people were still breezily unaware of their own racism) a world-famous magician and debunker of spiritualist charlatans, and Emma Stone as Sophie Baker, a medium who claims to have contact with the spirit world. Stanley is brought to a villa in the south of France to expose Sophie, who is holding seances for a rich, gullible American family in order to make them part with their money. Romance and complications ensue.
We can be forever grateful to Allen that he didn't write a part for his persona this time around, with a hapless actor trying to do him. Firth plays the egotistical Stanley with misanthropic, haughty elan. It's a joy to watch him handle comedy and romance to perfection, a little more ruffled and over the top than usual. He lands the punchlines with exquisite timing and delivers the dialogue without sounding like a comedian begging for a laugh. He can also turn a withering look into hangdog puppy eyes in a blink. He's a class act and it is a seamless performance. With a lesser actor, this would be a lesser movie.
My only gripe about the charming and very adroit Emma Stone is that she is way too thin. This girl needs some meat on her bones. Otherwise, she more than holds her own parrying with Firth. She is spunky, confident and funny, which is no mean feat. Allen knows what classic romantic comedies used to be like (hint: nothing like the vulgar fart fests of today). This time, he seems to have been kinder to his heroine, and instead of his usual semi-hysterical shrews, he gives us a smart, independent, grounded woman who doesn't take to Stanley's patronizing sitting down.
It's the first time in years that I can watch a Woody Allen movie and not cringe at his misogyny. Stone is way too young to be a romantic interest for Firth, but I was able to brush this off because they are both delightful. Besides, Allen is hardly the only director guilty of ageism in film. This is normal in American movies, where actors much older than Firth are given girlfriends who could be their grandchildren (see any movie with Liam Neeson or Harrison Ford).
As for where Allen lands in the debate between reason and spirituality, he tricks us, like a magician, into thinking one thing and ends up, after a couple of twists, squarely, and safely, on the side of love. This is the best comedy he has written in years.

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