Magic in the Moonlight, rated PG-13
Starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Simon McBurney, Eileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater
Austin Family critical rating: 4 of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly rating: 4 of 5 stars
Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen’s 44th film, is our yearly reminder that there’s still at least one classic storyteller making great movies. Compared to last year’s Blue Jasmine and 2011’s Midnight in Paris—his recent Oscar-winning masterpieces—Magic in the Moonlight may not seem like the most serious or “important”Woody Allen picture, but that’s part of what’s so fun about the movie.
Colin Firth stars as Stanley, a world-renowned magician in 1928 who goes by the stage name “Wei Ling Soo.”As the film opens, fellow magician Howard (Simon McBurney) visits Stanley after a performance in Berlin. He asks Stanley to accompany him to the French countryside and help debunk a particularly convincing American mystic named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who claims to communicate with the dead. Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) currently hold a wealthy American family in thrall, as Sophie stages a series of séances to communicate with the deceased husband of Grace (Jacki Weaver). Highly skeptical and determined to prove her a fraud, Stanley is astonished to discover that Sophie may actually be the real thing.
The movie posits that a little delusion is necessary to be truly happy in life. The central conflict in Magic in the Moonlight is whether our lead character is going to buy into that delusion or not. The movie playfully skewers both people who find comfort in talking with spirits, as well as rigid non-believers who are certain the universe contains no mysteries. Allen’s gift for showing us characters who completely rearrange their lives according to a new belief system (and then eventually return to their old way of thinking) is as sharp here as ever.
Magic in the Moonlight is a delightful starting course for younger viewers curious about other kinds of pictures outside the multiplex. I remember seeing Allen’s Small Time Crooks (2000) and Hollywood Ending (2002) in cinemas at a young age, and though it wasn’t until seeing films like Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) that I became a passionate Allen fan, it helped create for me an awareness of a different sensibility of filmmaking, more in tune with what cinema used to be.
Like many Allen movies, Magic in the Moonlight is rated PG-13, but there’s hardly anything objectionable in the picture. It’s a lovely, well-written romance that you’re more likely to enjoy than anything else in current release.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.