Stanley: I can’t forgive you, only God can forgive you.
[He begins to walk out the door]
Sophie: But you said there is no God.
Stanley: [stopping and turning for effect] Precisely my point.
Last night, I was on the verge of beddy-byes and I did exactly what you shouldn’t do and took one last zap through the cable channels. Low and behold in the last channel called Film & Arts the above movie appeared and it was about to start. As the credits rolled in that distinguished white print against the black background and the roaring 20’s music which I was accustomed to seeing in Woody Allen films I waited to see who was the director. You guessed it as did I. Funnily, after watching just 5 minutes I found myself wide awake and scooped two fistfuls of my favourite nut variety and secured myself in for the long-haul.
Wei Ling Soo, a.k.a. Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a magician who has dedicated his life to revealing fraudulent spiritualists. He plans to quickly uncover the truth behind celebrated spiritualist Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) and her scheming mother (Marcia Gay Harden). However, the more time he spends with her, he starts thinking that she might actually be able to communicate with the other world, but even worse, he might be falling in love with her.
I was captivated by the storyline, cinematography and the music. It’s a classy-act and beautifully written by Woody. The existential themes (such as; the existence of God, the materialist worldview against the supernatural and significance of life) which run rampant through much of his Guru director – Ingmar Bergman’s filmography are channelled here in this film. And if that sounds “heavy,” the miracle of the movie is its very lightness. It is eloquent, cheeky and intriguing. Magic in the Moonlight is the sixth film to appear at Friday’s Finest from Woody and it was his 44th film. It is one of his most poorly received with 51% on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.5 on IMDB, but to my mind even one of Woody Allen’s less successful works is better than what 99% of directors could achieve in their lifetimes.
(Spoiler Alert – kinda) I can understand one of the major criticisms of the film which concerns its finale, specifically the 180 degree about-turn of Colin Firth’s character which doesn’t seem congruent with his materialist-rationalist world-view that we were accustomed. I also found it quite the quandary, but I think Woody’s rationale for such a character’ about-face is the significance – that ‘Love’ is not rational. The other major criticism seems to be in the lack of chemistry in the characters played by Firth and Emma Stone. I also did not see the love Stone’s character exuded as reciprocated by Firth’s; so I can identify with that frustration as a viewer.
Otherwise, I found Magic in the Moonlight a very charming and alluring film as I do with almost all of Woody’s output. He seems to write so cleverly about social-classes in society and how they interact and the nuance in the performances, not to mention: the beautiful sets and music lend the movie experience as enriching and fulfilling. There is a lovely scene in the middle of the film where the protagonists are inundated by rain and they find refuge in an observatory. Its the first time Emma Stone falls in love inside an observatory. The second time is in La La Land (2016).