Which Woody Allen would you like? "You're a genius with all the charm of a typhus epidemic" - says the best friend of a master magician played by Colin Firth. While Firth is trying to expose a supposed clairvoyant played by Emma Stone she says, "My mental impressions are cloudy". He retorts, "Are they Cumulus or......? Then there's the Woody Allen, obviously an atheist (or close to it) giving us a debate between people who believe only what they can see and those who might take a chance on what's in store for them. They're all included in Magic in the Moonlight.
That's a lot to put into one movie, but the breathtaking scenery, gorgeous settings and general feeling of an old fashioned (1920's) comedy, are too good to miss. Why quibble over a far from perfect story, when you've got the French Riviera. The clothes that made the 20's an era of short skirts, low backs and plunging necklines for the young and modest, striking longer outfits for the mature. And hats! Everyone had dozens and you'll see them all in Magic In the Moonlight.
I read somewhere about how using film to make a movie gave the cinematographer more ways to make memorable pictures. It sure worked in this instance for Darius Khondji. The colors are soft. The hues blend as if they had been hand painted and the outside scenic shots of the French Riviera make you want to get on a plane to see for yourself. In fact, they take the same drive that Cary Grant and Grace Kelly did in To Catch A Thief. Remember when they stop for the picnic lunch. "Would you like a leg or a breast?"
Of course you want to know a little about this story which gets a great start as we watch an illusionist, Wei Lig Soo, perform his act which includes making an elephant disappear. Back in his dressing room we see that he's actually a British man, Stanley played by Colin Firth and greeted by an old friend and fellow illusionist Howard played by Simon McBurney. who wants him to come to the Cote d'Azur where a rich American family has been taken in by a clairvoyant and mystic, Sophie, played beautifully by Emma Stone. The son in the family has fallen in love with Sophie. He's played rather well by Hamish Linklater as a dimwit who serenades her accompanied by his ukulele. and that veteran British actress Eileen Atkins is wonderful as Stanley's Aunt Vanessa
Stanley thinks it will be snap to expose Sophie as a charlatan, the first hint being that she's from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Yes, I laughed too. But soon the tone of the picture changes and more mysteries develop, most of which you can see coming. But that gorgeous scenery also keeps coming into view and the well played 20's music gives an aura of the period that is genuinely charming. In fact the soundtrack includes some classic Bix Beiderbecke with "Big Boy", "Sorry" and "The Jazz Band Ball". There's also "Chinatown My Chinatown" by the Firehouse Five Plus Two and Paul Whiteman's Band rockin' with the "Charleston."
Despite the somewhat flawed story, there's a lot of nostalgia, a feast for the eyes, very good acting and a toe tapping score to enjoy in Magic in the Moonlight. I had a wonderful time.
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for brief suggestive comment and smoking through-out.
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