Thursday, August 21, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Film: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Stars: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins, Simon McBurney
Director: Woody Allen
Oscar History: No Nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Like taxes and Christmas, a new Woody Allen movie comes out once a year, and much like those two things, I indulge every year regardless of my level of excitement.  This year, I will admit, I wasn’t quite feeling it.  Quite frankly, the public would be forgiven for being a little Woody fatigued from the many (MANY) stories earlier this year between Allen and Mia Farrow.  That being said, I'm a devoted fan of his films at least through good times and bad, and even with a sense of malaise in the reviews to this film, I decided to head out to the movie.

(Spoilers Ahead) I will admit, though, that I was pleasantly surprised by the eventual outcome.  The film, while never as classically constructed as Annie Hall or as biting in its social and character commentary as Blue Jasmine, is certainly charming and occasionally quite funny.  Set in the late 1920's, the film is about an egotistical illusionist named Stanley (Firth) who is widely celebrated on the stage and an absolute boor in real life.  His skills at unmasking psychic frauds is put to the test when he stays at a country estate of a wealthy family, and is stumped as to how their mystic Sophie (Stone) is seemingly able to know everything about Stanley, somehow defying all logic or sense by perhaps being a true clairvoyant.

The film continues from there as Stanley falls in love with Sophie, though his close-mindedness doesn't really allow for such a revelation until late in the film, even if the audience and even Sophie are aware of what is happening.  Because this is an Allen picture, there isn't a particularly large amount of time spent on the actual "I love you's" (he knows you get the idea), but instead about the pitfalls that happen when you try to meld two opposites.  Stanley abandons his self-assuredness ever briefly but never his severe lack of hubris (he remains, rigidly and completely the same person he was at the beginning of the film, if perhaps a little more open to the ideas of love).  Sophie, on the other hand, changes completely throughout the film, opening up a new world and realizing what her completely arbitrary approach to life is bringing her.

This comes across as a bit sexist, and I wouldn't recommend the film in this regard, but the performances by the two leads, Stone in particular, are quite excellent.  You wouldn't think that the handsome and affable Firth would make a good proxy for the Woody protagonist, but Firth (who has been on such a role as of late) is a wonderful fill-in and while never quite the neurotic that Woody is, clearly is illustrating his substitute part with homage to the director.  Stone is excellent-it's as if she was plucked out of the Thirties and is playing the film like she's a young Irene Dunne.  I love the way she switches from the "performer" to the real character and back again-it's proof that she's being wasted wholly in those Spider-Man movies, and is genuinely an actor who could add something to classic screwball and "talking" comedies.  Sadly, Woody's the only director who makes these styles of pictures anymore, but he at least had the good sense to cast her in his next movie as well.

The finale is a bit of a yawn, I must admit.  After an entire film where Stanley has stayed so rigid and Sophie has literally had to come to him, Woody gives us one of his rare happy endings, with Sophie choosing Stanley despite the handsome young Brice (Linklater) being the smarter on-paper choice (and possibly the smarter choice period).  I think this film would have benefited greatly from a little more discretion from Woody (having her sail off and Stanley left to wonder, much like Jasmine in his last picture, whether or not his decision to be right was worth the decision to be happy).  Either way, though, this is still a solid movie and worth your time, even if it might get a bit shuffled in Woody's overall filmography.

What were your thoughts on Magic in the Moonlight?  Where does it rank amongst Woody's films?  And what do you think of Emma Stone as his latest muse?  Share in the comments!

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