“Magic in the Moonlight is a beautifully-decorated, elegantly written gem of a film, easily one of my favorite comedy-dramas of the year for its heavily-contemplative scenarios, existential questions, and wonderful performances by its two lead actors.”
I have a friend named Kelly, who is quite a bit like Emma Stone’s Sophie Baker in Woody Allen’s latest piece-of-greatness, Magic in the Moonlight. She’s heavily spiritual and feels connected to another life, not to the extent of Sophie, however, can be frequently spacey, sometimes says the strangest of things, acts like a new-age flower-child, embraces some of the strangest music and culture, but always has a kind heart, even for those who do not share many of her personal traits. For one, she was always trying to get me to be more spiritually connected and more aware of a higher power, but never in a demanding, condescending manner, and, at the end of the school year, told me she wishes I would give as much love to myself as much as I gave to my classmates and learned to appreciate myself in a more obvious manner.
Just like Sophie in Magic in the Moonlight, she’s next to impossible not to like, and our relationship as friends is quite a bit like the relationship that brews between Sophie and Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). In 1928, Crawford is a traveling illusionist, dressing up as a Chinaman and performing complex trickery on a bewildered audience. Despite his occupation, Stanley firmly believes life holds no secrets; he’s “a rational man in a rational world” and “anything else is a sign of madness.” He has the whole world figured out, he’s an atheist before his time, and he believes spiritualism and religion are corrupting forces of human nature.
Stanley has his beliefs tested when he is introduced to Sophie Baker by his longtime friend and coworker Howard (Simon McBurney), a woman who claims to receive “mental impressions,” which allow her to communicate with the unseen, spiritual world and discover things about the people she meets without even knowing anything about them personally. During this little vacation, Stanley finds himself questioning himself and the world in a more spiritualistic manner, but not after a heaping amount of skepticism is bestowed and his pompous attitude greatly criticized by Sophie and Howard.
Stanley’s mindset is one I occasionally fall into, which is my false sense of acting like I know everything there is to know about the world and convincing myself there can’t be any secrets. Then, after about three seconds, I remember that I couldn’t tell someone if the atheists or the spiritualists are correct in this debate on faith and the afterlife. The fact of the matter is that nobody knows for sure, not the atheists nor the spiritualists, which is precisely why they are called “beliefs.” Watching Stanley’s curmudgeon attitude become more and more prominent over the course of the film, until a possible revelation, as well as Sophie’s gentler, looser feelings towards life develop make for zealous hilarity, with Magic in the Moonlight being one of Allen’s most hilarious films in years. After the thematically dreary Blue Jasmine made solid waves last year, we needed something along those lines, and Allen delivers in one of the funniest comedies of the year.
In addition, this isn’t the first time Allen has focused on a relationship between two people and a large age-gap. Allen’s Whatever Works placed Larry David alongside Evan Rachel Wood for more of the same generation-gap conversations in a manner that, while moderately successful, didn’t generate the same level of contemplation and thought-provoking ideas as Magic in the Moonlight. However, Magic in the Moonlight shares the observations “Whatever Works” did, illustrating a generation-gap between heavy-believers and more hardened non-believers, with a relationship brewing from two souls that think they know, when they both really haven’t a clue.
With the film, it all comes down to the casting, with Firth and Stone being absolutely marvelous together, especially Firth, who holds his own and drives the film as a commanding force, similar to the way he handled taxing scenes in “The King’s Speech.” Firth’s recognition for “Magic in the Moonlight,” however, will be far too limited, and considering he performs with a fantastic sense of deadpan humor along with uproariously funny monologues coming at unpredictable times, that fact is just unfortunate. But make no mistake, as Stone manages to hold her own in this film, creating a character out of a loose and often stereotyped outline of a human being, and achieving success through and through.
Finally, Magic in the Moonlight brilliantly details, mostly in the third act, the potential reasons and justifications for human beings deluding ourselves or struggling to piece together answers we subconsciously know couldn’t be true just to have some sort of solace in an often cruel and noticeably imperfect world. This is the real strong-point of Allen’s film, which seems to catch him at a point in his life where he finds himself wrestling with beliefs or trying to understand the spiritualistic world, but can’t help but mock and belittle them and fondly recall himself and that he bears all the answers.
Magic in the Moonlight is a beautifully-decorated, elegantly written gem of a film, easily one of my favorite comedy-dramas of the year for its heavily-contemplative scenarios, existential questions, and wonderful performances by its two lead actors. If the writing was the only thing to praise, the film would be an instant recommendation, but the fact that its cinematography is handled by the famous Darius Khondji and little aesthetic touches like Vaudevillian music are incorporated, definitely make this film accomplished on many different angles. Then there’s the fact that while this film catches Allen at a time when he wants to see if he can best his spiritualist friends and acquaintances, he, in turn, makes a film that is devilishly hilarious and perhaps one of the funniest films Allen himself has ever made.