Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Cast includes: Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Simon McBurney (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Catherine McCormack (Spy Game), Eileen Atkins (Doc Martin), Erica Leerhsen (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End), Jeremy Shamos (Dedication), Hamish Linklater (42), Emma Stone (The Help), Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)
Writer/Director: Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
Genre: Comedy | Romance (97 minutes)
Berlin 1928… Wei Ling Soo is still the best in the world. He makes an elephant disappear, he saws a woman in half, he vanishes and reappears, and he holds audiences in the palm of his hands. Back stage, Stanley Crawford (aka, Wei Ling Soo) is surprised to find his old friend and fellow magician, Howard Burkan. Berkan is here because he needs help. It’s about the Catledge family… there’s “a young woman who has them believing she’s a spirit medium, and I haven’t been able to find a single flaw… I came to you because you’re the greatest debunker of fakery.” Burkan wants to lure Stanley to the south of France to get to the bottom of this. “Only a low-grade halfwit would fall for any of it,” says Stanley. “She won’t fool me.”
Berkan tells Stanley more as they get to the villa. Her name is Sophie Baker and she’s here with her mother. “She gets these mental vibrations. She tells you things she could never know.” That ukulele sound… BTW… is the Catledge’s son Brice learning to serenade Sophie because he’s madly in love. “She’s a visionary and a vision!” says Brice. As a way of trying to stump Sophie, Berkan introduces Stanley as Mr. Taplinger, a businessman. It does stump Sophie at first, but not entirely… “I’m getting a mental impression of something oriental… perhaps Chinese… I see Chinese characters.” “You must be seeing my laundry ticket,” says Stanley. “Perhaps you’re making fun of me,” she says. (She’s used to skeptics.) Anyway, tonight the planets are in alignment and Sophie is going to help Mrs. Catledge make contact with her dear departed late husband. Stanly will be able to see Sophie in action. As it turns out, the more time Stanley spends with Sophie, the harder is becomes to declare her a fake. If he can’t debunk her, it could overturn everything he’s ever believed in. It could even turn Stanley into an optimist!
“The more I watch her, the more I don’t know,” declares Stanley. And because of the playful nature of the narrative, we don’t know where it’s going either. Magic in the Moonlight is indeed magical from the gorgeous locations to the excellent performances. Woody Allen’s recent films seem to alternate between familiar themes and films that are a slight departure. This is one of his familiar themes… probably most similar to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. It’s not challenging or deep in any way, but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. It has an excellent cast and good supply of chuckles, even though there aren’t any big laughs. As the plot thickens, it’s easy to see why so many are taken in by Sophie. “Am I the only sane person left on this planet?” cries Stanley. On the other hand, maybe Stanley really is a “pessimistic bore.” Is it any wonder that Sophie is actually considering a marriage proposal from “that young milk sop,” Brice? In the meantime, Stanley is slowly coming under her spell… “You have substantial gifts and agreeable features… in the right light.” A visionary and a vision, indeed!
3 popped kernels
A world-famous magician tries to debunk a spirit medium but gradually comes under her spell
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: Trying to debunk a charming spirit medium
Social Significance: Pure Entertainment