Magic in the Moonlight

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney

Rated: PG-13 (a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout)

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

 

Magic in the Moonlight

By Matt Greene

MitM is hotel art: it’s beautiful and skillful, but also rushed, empty and superfluous.  Allen’s playing with whimsy, with lines like, “Life may or may not have a purpose, but it is undoubtedly touched with a bit of magic.” Old-fashioned illusions, Shakespearean-like discourses, and big period set pieces almost make it seem like Allen’s shaking off his youthful cynicism…but no. The unnatural quirk is disconnected and force-fed. Despite its warm tone, MitM, with its charisma-less characters and monotonous plotting, is cold and dull.

Firth plays a cynically logical magician that is determined to disprove a clairvoyant mystic (Stone) claiming to be “the real-deal”, but soon begins to come under her spell. The premise has moments of surprise, most of which come from a lack of thematic focus, sporadically jumping from thought to thought.

Allen, as usual, has created a protagonist that is an avatar of his own ill-advised pessimism, and places him in a world that will call that out; this makes his movies personal but rarely subtle. This technique can work (Midnight in Paris, Annie Hall), but not here.  Other than some decent verbal sparring and philosophical arguing between Firth and Stone, the stilted dialogue and unattractive characters hurt MitM.

Nonetheless, the tone of MitM is comfy, bright, and even somewhat enjoyable. I would love to see what Allen could do with a silent film, since the visuals and score are often more charming than the story or people here. Unfortunately, these few positives only add up to a short film’s length.  MitM is a filler track on a pop record: not aggressively bad, just unneeded and forgettable.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

 

Magic in the Moonlight

By Cole Schneider

Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan) has directed almost fifty films in his career, yet “Magic In the Moonlight”–a film following a cranky old white man who dresses up as a Chinese magician in the 1920s and prides himself on knowing truth and dismissing its desperate imitators–may somehow be his most personal to date.

“Magic” balances its intellectual cynicism with rare candidness and charm. As Firth struggles to accept the possibility of faith there is a palpable honesty in the character’s writing such that we might expect out of a 79 year old skeptic facing the imminency and perceived finality of death. There is a struggle for truth being fought: reason against faith.

Without glibly answering what truth is the film rather allows its characters to come to their own logical place as they realize that reason needs faith and faith needs reason. Rather than treating them as opposite forces, “Magic” finds a harmony between them in a beautiful and personal way. There is tenderness beneath the Nietzsche quotes.

As Allen’s life drives on, he recognizes a need for both reason and faith to be in the car. Deftly, the film has us driving a car alongside him with both reason and faith as passengers, but sitting backseat. It leaves room in the front for what really matters–relationship, love. This is the message of “Magic”. This is the truth it finds. No matter what one’s worldview is, any reasonable or faithful person can agree to that.

Essentially it is a Bergman film with a comic touch; while intellectually penetrating it still manages to be romantic and lightweight. “Magic” is the rare film that tackles metaphysics with genuine grace.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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