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Magic in the Moonlight

It’s difficult to dislike Woody Allen’s latest divertissement. With attractive people engaged in amusing repartee, beautiful 1920s clothes, and the South of France as a breathtaking backdrop, Magic in the Moonlight has an abundance of eye candy and charm. It isn’t one of Allen’s best, and I’ll admit there is an air of contrivance about it, but it’s a refreshing change from most of the summer fare—like a cool drink on a hot day.

Colin Firth plays a master stage magician with an outsized ego. His boyhood pal (and fellow illusionist) Simon McBurney asks his help to expose a young woman whose sham séances and psychic messages have duped a family of wealthy Americans. Firth relishes the task, until he meets the “phony” (Emma Stone) and finds himself falling under her spell.

Allen has concocted an elegant charade that doesn’t purport to be anything else. None of the characters could be described as truly believable. The philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and the possibility of a spirit world are superficial at best. And I could easily find other nits to pick: Firth is an able farceur but he plays this part rather strenuously, in contrast to Stone’s lighter-than-air approach. The able supporting cast (including Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver) is left in the dust with one-dimensional roles, and easily eclipsed by Eileen Atkins, as Firth’s favorite aunt. This formidable British actress dominates a crucial, climactic scene that could serve as a master class in acting…and underplaying.

Even Allen’s beloved 1920s music (which I love, too) becomes tedious at times, as he repeats certain vintage recordings over and over again.

And yet…

I enjoyed the experience of watching Magic in the Moonlight, and I smile now as I think about it. That’s no small accomplishment for any film.

 

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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