Saturday, August 16, 2014

'Magic in the Moonlight' review

Woody Allen churns out a film a year and he's often very hit and miss. While I'm not overly familiar with his filmography (I've seen Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine), most critics seem to think of him as an inconsistent filmmaker, quality wise. Films like Blue Jasmine and Midnight Paris received praise recently, while To Rome With Love was lambasted (I couldn't stand Blue Jasmine, so I differ there). Magic in the Moonlight is Allen's newest feature and it's about what I expected. Not great, but simply decent. There are good performances and a pleasant, traditional style with a stellar soundtrack. It's just a film that runs out of ideas and it isn't comfortable in its own skin.

Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a magician who travels across Europe under the name of Wei Ling Soo. He's just finished a tour when another magician friend named Howard Burken (Simon McBurney) arrives to invite him to the south of France, where a group of socialites are convinced that a woman (Emma Stone) is an actual spirit medium. Stanley heads to France, where stays with the Catledges family and learns about all of the ways that Sophie (the medium) has affected them. Brice (Hamish Linklater) is in love with her and Grace Catledge (Jackie Weaver) believes that Sophie has connected her with her dead husband. Stanley has debunked many fake mediums before, but he slowly becomes convinced. Could she be the first true spirit medium?

Magic in the Moonlight is often a simple romantic comedy about the relationship between Stanley and Sophie. And that's not a bad thing. Most of the time, Magic in the Moonlight is a beautiful film with lush scenery, a classic soundtrack and strong performances. However, it's so unsure of itself that it ends up trying to be more than that and that's when the film falls apart. Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry, but their romance seems incredibly forced thanks to some of the third act twists and turns. Magic in the Moonlight had the potential to be a great addition to the Allen collection, but it ends up being forgettable because of a flat ending with unnecessary twists and a message about spirituality that doesn't fit the tone of the film.

The acting is always very good in Allen's films. Whether or not I like the characters is a completely different story, but I'm always impressed by the performances. Cate Blanchett was stellar in Blue Jasmine, although I despised her character and it made me dislike the film. The same thing happens at times in Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth is a fine actor and does a great job as Stanley, but his character is so gratingly pessimistic and rude that he'll get on your nerves fast. Emma Stone is also very good as Sophie, although she overdoes the psychic vision aspect a little bit (it's on purpose, but still seems unnecessary). 

The supporting cast is rounded out by veteran actors and they all deliver solid performances. One of the better performances comes Hamish Linklater, who plays Brice, the boy who is in love with Sophie so deeply to the point that you want to punch him. Linklater had a bit part in last year's 42 and has a great screen presence. A long career in movies is ahead of him. Marcia Gay Harden shows up and does very little and although it's always great to see Silver Linings Playbook star Jacki Weaver in a new movie, she has nothing to do in this one. Eileen Atkins plays Aunt Vanessa and has one of the meatier parts in the film. Her banter with Firth and Stone is quite amusing at times and she does a good job. 

The production values on this film are terrific and it's a lovely movie to watch. The Southern French scenery is absolutely gorgeous and it really sucks you into the film. The wide, sun-filled shots perfectly capture the beauty of the location and I truly admired that. The soundtrack is also terrific, with a lot of 1920's ragtime music, which fits the setting perfectly. The music feels like it's straight out of The Sting. Definitely a good thing. 

Allen's Blue Jasmine was thematically a very heavy film. It dealt with real-life issues including stress, the stock market crash and the superficiality of the world around us. Magic in the Moonlight is not that movie. It's set up as a frothy romantic comedy with a heavy dose of Woody Allen thrown in. The problem is that once Magic in the Moonlight heads into its third act, it tries to be a thematically deep film. It wants to say stuff about the human condition and it wants to mix in some heavy themes about God and spirituality and the movie is just not suited for that. It's too much of a tonal shift. 

In addition to that, I found the film's romance to be incredibly thin and poorly written. There's nothing that really suggests that Firth and Stone's characters should be together, but for whatever reason, they are. It just feels forced. The two characters spend most of the film making fun of each other with witticisms and practical jokes, yet they end up loving each other in the end. It's just a forced ending. If the film had gone a different route with its third act, the romance angle might not feel so fake, but for now, we're stuck with this version of the film.

Magic in the Moonlight was enjoyable for a good chunk of its runtime, but its charm wears thin pretty quickly and the third act has major issues. It's a shame that Allen couldn't hold it all together, because he could have had something truly special. But for now, we're stuck with a film that will entertain you for 75% of its runtime, before completely falling apart to the point where you'll probably lose interest. The performances are great and the visuals are astounding, but the story just ends up being a mess towards the end. I enjoyed this film a lot at times, yet it's just not perfect. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.8/10)

1 comment:

  1. Maybe you shouldn't ask to this movie to end as bad as in reality.