Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for each old fashioned outfit and car

Take a Drink: during each scene of banter

Do a Shot: whenever there is a magic trick

Take a Drink: for each predictable moment

By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) – 

While Woody Allen is known as one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood, I seem to be one of the people who are behind on his workload. All of his classic films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Sleeper I still have not gotten the chance to check out yet, so it’s safe to say I’m not the biggest fan of his work. For me, out of the four films of his I’ve seen, his resume has been quite mixed.

For me, it’s hard to deny that Midnight in Paris is a good movie, but I didn’t think it was the big Oscar contender that it turned out to be. Then there was To Rome with Love, a very compacted film that largely missed the mark of its high goals. Thankfully, last year’s Blue Jasmine really worked for me, and was personally a tough cut from my Best Of list last year. As many know, Allen is a hit-or-miss director for the most part, mostly because of the giant amount of films he makes. His latest, Magic in the Moonlight, will not be considered one of his best, but is a pleasant watch throughout.

Magic in the Moonlight follows Stanley, a famous magician who is sent to a wealthy South France household to investigate Sophie, an American who is posing as someone who can talk to spirits.

A Toast 

Woody Allen is one of the best in the industry for a reason, and for me seeing his films feels like a breath of fresh air. Allen is the ultimate laissez faire director, as he lets the dialogue and characters speak for themselves as he captures simple wide shots of the action. Compared to directors who put so much shit in their movies to distract audiences, Allen’s more old-fashioned approach has always been appealing to me, especially his dedication towards it even with film changing over the years.

*cough*
*cough*

Here Allen sticks to his guns as expected, and it works for Magic in the Moonlight. All of the set design here is gorgeous, as Allen and his production crew deliver the lush clothing and cars you’d expect from a film like this. Cinematographer Darius Khondji is able to capture some beautiful shots of South France, from the grand oceans to the old-fashioned mansions. A great selection of old-fashioned music adds the perfect glue for all of these great intangibles. Allen is a master at what he does at this point, so it’s no surprise that all of these pieces click here.

As usual for an Allen film, the performances are dynamite. Colin Firth, who at this point is mostly known for his role in dramas The King’s Speech and A Single Man, really shines in the role as the Woody Allen surrogate here. Firth clearly is having a lot of fun, passionately going through many different neurotic rants about the lack of magic in the world. Co-starring alongside him is Emma Stone, who does a great job of counter-balancing Firth’s cynicism. Similar to Firth, she clearly is having fun in the role, and really getting the chance to play a new character. Both Firth and Stone are the highlights of the film, as their chemistry carries even through some lulls.

firth
Firth stutters a little less here though…

Supporting the duo is a cast full of quality character actors who hold their own in their roles. Respected actors like Jacki Weaver, Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Eileen Atkins are able to do a lot with their smaller roles in the film, adding a great deal of credibility and charm to the flick.

Helping the cast as well is the dialogue, which is quite sharp. Allen’s script features quite a few solid laughs throughout, with there being quite a few memorable laughs as well. While it’s not a laugh out funny flick like some of Allen’s flicks are said to be, there  are enough laughs to be pleased throughout.

Two Beers

Aside from the dialogue, Allen’s script has its fair share of issues. Magic in the Moonlight‘s central ideas are about the battle between cynics and optimists in the world, and if there is anything outside of the lives we live. That is an interesting concept for sure, but is covered in a very basic sort of way. It’s just thrown under the rug once the dynamic of the characters gets going towards the second act.

While the film mostly moves well in its 98 minute running time, Magic in the Moonlight does have its fair share of dull moments. There are a few lengthy stretches in the film where there is a lack of great comedy or character development, making these moments feel quite dry. These moments are not too frequent, but derail the film in a way, especially when the film feels like it’s finding its rhythm.

These moments are about this dry...
These moments are about this dry…

Three Beers

Where the script suffers the most, however, is the story itself. While there are a couple twists and turns throughout, including a third act twist that did not quite work for me, the film plays out just as one would expect it to walking in. It’s apparent right when the film starts that the film is about to go through the motions, and aside from the twist that does not really work with the rest of the film, it mostly does.

Verdict

Magic in the Moonlight is a predictable and somewhat mild flick, but one that still gives quite a bit of enjoyment. Both Firth and Stone are a charming duo, and their great chemistry helps in covering up some of the film’s issues. While it’s nowhere near Woody Allen’s best, it’s certainly a solid base hit for him.

About Matt Conway

I love movies and sports and run on sentences. You can find me at a basketball court, the local theater, or napping on a couch somewhere.

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