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Woody Allen's Sleight-of-Hand: Magic in the Moonlight

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Woody Allen is up to his old tricks. Real ones, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. In previous films he's played the magician role himself, but in Magic in the Moonlight, a romantic comedy set in the luscious Provence landscape, he allows the dreamy Colin Firth to handle the willing suspension of disbelief, making elephants disappear, sawing women in two, misdirection, bedecked in chinoiserie. Even as an insufferable pompous egomaniac, Firth is so suave it is easy to fall in love with him.

But wait, didn't he play this role before? Ah yes, his character is a reprise of the arrogant Mr. Darcy, only this time facing the wide eyed Emma Stone as Sophie, a charlatan psychic, with echoes of T. S. Eliot's Madame Sosostris, a seer of the unseen type that was all the rage in the early twentieth century. Evoking Hamlet's malaise, Firth's Stanley has a crisis of faith and you have to believe the angst represents an evolution in the filmmaker's own late-life dread of death. In supporting roles, Jacki Weaver and Marcia Gay Harden are good, but a special commendation goes to Eileen Atkins for her expertise at solitaire and elegance in period dress.

Dress in fact was on display at the premiere's after party at Harlow, hosted by Dolce & Gabbana who provided lovely frocks for Emma Stone and Audrey Tatou, in town for the premiere of her new film, the whimsical and dark Mood Indigo. Firth and Andrew Garfield, hiding behind a full beard, looked spiffy in D&G suits, as did Dane DeHaan, rounding out the Spiderman team. Others, Anna Wintour, John Turturro, Bennett Miller, Oliver Stone, Julie Taymor, Christine Baranski, looked pretty good too, Firth's Mamma Mia co-star sidling up to him at a back room table.

Nearby the gamine Audrey Tatou gesticulated wildly praising the performances. She especially wanted to know how much Firth improvised hand gestures, the kind of moves actors might note as choices rather than direction. So, when chance came my way, I asked him. Gamely he replied that it's organic, when your character falls apart, your arm may disengage, and he did the move. Next up for him is a film with Jude Law, about the You Can't Go Home Again novelist Thomas Wolfe and his unusual working relationship with editor Maxwell Perkins; it's called Genius.

By this time, Woody Allen was nowhere in sight, and yet he should know, as the Australian Jacki Weaver affirmed, for actors worldwide working with Woody Allen is magic, the stuff dreams are made on.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.