In the latest film by Woody Allen, an illusionist sets off to the French Riviera to debunk a pretty young psychic medium. Set in the 1920s, Stanley (Colin Firth) is a British man who performs on stage as the world famous Oriental illusionist Wei Ling Soo. After a show, Stanley is greeted by fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), who asks for help debunking a young American psychic named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has been taken in by a rich American family in the French Riviera. Stanley travels with Howard to observe Sophie at work and soon finds himself charmed by both her apparent powers and endearing personality.
I do have to say that it’s funny that, along with the documentary An Honest Liar, there are currently two films playing that deal with magicians, who set out to debunk psychics. I suppose that is only natural that someone, who makes a career out of fooling people, would be bothered by someone who seems to be doing the exact same thing, yet is less honest about it. Of course, unlike the documentary, Magic in the Moonlight uses this premise as a bit of a MacGuffin, for what is ultimately a typical Woody Allen romantic comedy.
It is pretty obvious from the start where the plot of Magic in the Moonlight is going to end up, however the film is still quite charming to watch, thanks to the lead performances by Colin Firth and Emma Stone. Stanley is a staunch atheist, who refuses to believe in a spiritual world or anything else that cannot be explained by reason. This is why he is so taken aback when he comes across Sophie, who seems to know things about him and his family that she can’t possibly know. This ends up shaking Stanley’s belief system, but also allows his typically sheltered persona to open up, especially as he begins to find himself enamoured by Sophie.
Typically of many of Woody Allen’s films, Magic in the Moonlight features a large ensemble supporting cast. This includes Marcia Gay Harden as Sophie’s mother, Jacki Weaver as the rich family’s matriarch Grace, and Eileen Atkins as Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa. Despite this heavily recognizable cast, much of the film is solely centred on the interactions between Stanley and Sophie.
On the nitpicking side of things, while it’s probably a product of the film’s 1920s time period, it is slightly off-putting that Stanley is world famous as an illusionist, who performs in yellowface with the stereotypically Asian stage name of Wei Ling Soo. The film doesn’t linger on this aspect of the film too much and it does have some relevance to the plot, but it also seemed like an unnecessary part of Stanley’s character. Perhaps it’s to show some hypocrisy that Stanley considers himself a man of reason, even though he puts on an incredibly racist stage show. Or maybe I am just reading too much into this aspect of the plot.
While Magic in the Moonlight doesn’t match recent Woody Allen accomplishments, such as Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, it still turned out be a quite charming little romantic comedy.8 | LIKED IT