Woody Allen still has the ability to make movie magic as he so ably demonstrates in his wildly romantic new comedy Magic In the Moonlight. The dialogue, the skill of the actors, and the 1920s setting for the story all add to the emotional response drawn from the audience. Colin Firth and Emma Stone head an impeccably talented cast. They seem to be channeling Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle as they bring to life the story of a man who is quite the charmer and a woman who is thoroughly charming.
Stanley (Firth) is a magician who appears onstage as Wei Ling Soo. He is considered one of the best in the business. His friend Howard (Simon McBurney) is also in the magic business but has not been as successful as Stanley. One night Howard appears backstage after one of Wei Ling Soo's performances and asks Stanley to accompany him to the Cote d'Azur where a young girl and her mother are visiting friends of his.
The girl is named Sophie (Stone) and claims to have the power to communicate with the dead, as well as other extra sensory gifts. Stanley's friend Grace (Jackie Weaver) is quite taken with her as is her son Brice (Hamish Linklater). Howard implores Stanley to expose the girl for the fraud he thinks she is, but the longer Stanley is around Sophie the more doubtful he is that she is not what she claims to be.
It is a simple tale of ESP and possible fraud that is enhanced by a possible growing romance between Stanley and Sophie. He of course says any romantic notions are preposterous, but all the while he is sinking deeper and deeper. While he grows accustomed to her face, Sophie is piling on the charm just by being herself.
Firth has never been better than he is as the slightly pompous Stanley. In this role he withholds his boyish charm from all but his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), as he puts up a blustery front to the world. Emma Stone is just adorable in the film even though she does not look her best. Her Sophie is a true match for Firth's Stanley and she lets the audience know it from the beginning.
Firth and Stone dominate the screen time with their characters but Atkins manages to eke out a place in the audience's heart with her portrayal of the older but wiser Vanessa. She is the conscience of the film and the touchstone of the story. Hers is a performance that should be remembered when awards are being handed out.
The film is rated PG-13 for mild profanity and adult situations.
At seventy-eight Woody Allen seems to be at the top of his game. He manages to turn out a movie each year and some of them are among his best. Magic In the Moonlight definitely belongs in the plus column.
I scored Magic In the Moonlight a fanciful 8 out of 10.
Jackie K Cooper