Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

If it's anything, Magic in the Moonlight is a trifle. It's a frothy, lightweight bit of comedy not meant to withstand anything beyond its run-time. As it plays, it works like a charm. The cinematography is a dream, the costumes dazzling, and the actors run through their dialogue as though they'd been playing their roles on stage for ages.  The punchlines are rambled off as quickly as the scenes seem to turn, and the story is one tried and true: a case of false identities, wealthy aristocrats, marriage plans, and infidelity.  It's our yearly dose of Woody Allen run through generations of screwball influence.  Most of Magic keeps things at a surface level and leaves us with almost nothing to digest.  The film is something like bubblegum or cotton candy. Depending on a viewer's temperament you'll either chew on it until it loses flavor or enjoy its sugar sweetness until it evaporates on your tongue.
 Magic's lightness has found it little favor with critics, but it's so harmless a bauble that any critical savagery spent on it seems misplaced.  It simply is what it is: an amusing, charmingly old-school, picture postcard of a marriage plot.  Sure the thing's a bit antiquated and too caught up in its own nostalgia, but it's hard to believe it was ever conceived as any deeper sort of entertainment.
 As a Woody Allen film, Magic in the Moonlight sits somewhere at the middle of the spectrum as a work more endearing than many, less remarkable than most.  The dialogue isn't quite as polished as some of Allen's nostalgia-driven pictures, and the inevitable undercurrent of neurosis takes on a particularly twee quality when expressed via a jauntily capped Colin Firth in a rose garden.  In truth, there's nothing to the dramatic arc beyond a dreamy desire for more shots of luxe swimming pools, Riviera villas, and Emma Stone's wide-eyed grin.

The Story kicks off with a well-tread Allen trope: a magic show.  We look on as Stanley (Colin Firth) awes audiences by making an elephant disappears.  He performs as Wei Ling Soo in full-on stereotypical drag, a supposedly Chinese conjurer playing to packed houses all over Europe.  When the makeup comes off, Stanley is a bitter, cynical man.  For someone who makes a living off magic, his relationship to cold reality and hard truths is one that isolates him from those around him.  His fiance is like-minded, and theirs is a clinical sort of partnership his friends and family poke fun at.  Of course, in true Allen fashion, a new option quickly presents herself when Stanley is lured to Southern France with a seemingly simple challenge: to prove a supposed medium is nothing more than a con-artist.
The medium in question, though, proves to be a little more than good old Stanley bargained for. He arrives to find Sophie (Emma Stone), a bright young American woman with a quick wit and a string of wealthy families wrapped around her finger.  As her mental vibrations seem to prove themselves time and again, Stanley finds himself predictably enthralled and perplexed.  What happens from there is clear from the outset, but Magic attempts momentarily to land a lofty revelation on faith and fact.  It's a nice thought, but one that feels just a bit too try-hard for what ultimately operates as character development.  Where Midnight in Paris could manage a question of whether we're all just pining for some mythic past, Magic doesn't need to bother with philosophy.  It's a lovely trinket, and that's all it needs to be.  Take it as an enjoyable shift from the onslaught of dark-hued doom fests, don't be disappointed if it doesn't make you rethink the entirety of the cosmos.  

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