In an interview back in the late 1990s Woody Allen described himself as “thin but fun,” and the exact same thing could be said about many of his movies — doubly so for his latest film “Magic in the Moonlight.” This pleasant, diverting film is a sweet hit to the senses before it melts away in your memory like cotton candy. Poof! It’s gone. “Gee, that was nice,” you might say, “but let’s move on” — that’s what “Magic in the Moonlight” is like.
On the other hand, once we consider the particular skills required to produce a genuinely satisfying stick of cotton candy, you’ll see that “thin and fun” is not so easy. Allen has honed and polished this style over the course of four decades until it gleams like old silver — or, yes, moonlight. At this point, he has no rivals. The auteurs can do thick and dense, or elaborate and heavy, but who can duplicate Allen’s light-as-air touch, his gentle, supercilious humor and nonintrusive approach? All that and more can be savored in “Magic.”
As usual, Allen has assembled a cast that includes a jaded middle-aged guy (Colin Firth) who falls for an attractive, much-younger woman (Emma Stone). For years Allen himself played the former, but he now seems content to sit back and let other guys do the job: generating the illusion that gorgeous babes will somehow be snapped up by old, balding guys in glasses.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||98 mins|
To be fair, Firth is not your typical middle-aged man but a top-notch hottie with an endearing British streak of Mr. Darcy-style shyness (sorry, Hugh Grant). In this case, his charm neutralizes the predatory nature of a romantic relationship between a 50-something male and a woman young enough to be his daughter. It also helps that Firth looks spanking wonderful in tailored linen suits against the backdrop of the French Riviera in the early 1930s.
Firth plays Stanley, a stage magician whose speciality is exposing fraudulent spiritualists. After a gig in Paris, he is called down to the coast by longtime friend Howard (Simon McBurney), who suspects that American clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) — who has settled into the local community — is a fake. Stanley duly arrives, and approaches Sophie with confidence, telling her she is “a very clever little humbug.” But then his convictions waver when the vibration-feeling, seance-holding Sophie seems to be the genuine article. The perpetual presence of Sophie’s odious mother (Marcia Gay Harden) actually fans the flame that suddenly flares up in Stanley’s frosty heart. He’s in love! And, to his joy, Sophie seems to love him back — if only halfway.
The old themes hold strong for Allen. He still likes to air his trouble with mothers, and Sophie’s mom bears the brunt of his inherent contempt for maternal figures. But it’s Stanley’s aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) — a delicious cross between the typically meddlesome Jewish mother and an aging, flighty socialite — who gets the best zingers. She gives Stanley the hardest time (which, in the world of Allen, translates to pure masochistic joy), almost stealing the thunder from young Sophie, ever fresh and appealing in an array of summer frocks.
Allen fans will enjoy watching Sophie and Stanley re-enact a scene from an earlier Allen film when they get caught in a rainstorm and take shelter in a planetarium. Inside, Firth and Stone argue flirtatiously about what is or isn’t romantic, a situation played out between Allen and Diane Keaton in “Manhattan” (1979).
“Magic in the Moonlight” shows Allen is up to his old tricks again, which affords a sense of gratitude and deep relief. Whatever else happens in the world, as long as Allen is around he’ll continue to bring us another in a series of sweet wafer-thin nothings.
The film is another example of Allen’s blinkered view of the world, a collection of silly-but-endearing one-liners in a cynical and violent universe.
Now that’s what I call sustainability.