Do Colin Firth and Emma Stone create some Magic in the Moonlight?

Do Colin Firth and Emma Stone create some Magic in the Moonlight?

Is Woody Allen going sentimental on us at age 78? Magic in the Moonlight is a literal interpretation of the metaphorical link between love and magic where his incisive one-liners have given way to sweet nothings.

In 1920’s Berlin, celebrity magician Stanley Crawford, AKA Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth), is persuaded by old friend and former rival Howard (Simon McBurney) to accompany him to the French Riviera.

Howard believes he has found an unimpeachable clairvoyant (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider Man, Easy A, The Help) and he needs Stanley’s expertise to disprove him and expose her. Predictably, both Stanley and Sophie fall under one another’s spell. Though entertaining and beautiful to look at, Firth and Stone are an odd pairing, while Allen’s script lacks the magic to make this a classic.

En route to the Côte D’Azur, Stanley assures Howard that no medium will fool him.  His self-confidence is matched only by his cynicism.  When he is first introduced to Sophie (Emma Stone) he quietly mocks her. It does, however, become increasingly difficult to do so.

Sophie is not only convincing, but she is a very attractive, free-spirited psychic who has captivated the Catledges, a rich and gullible American family.  The son and heir to the Catledge family fortune has already proposed marriage so the stakes are high. But when Stanley risks his reputation by telling the international press that Sophie is authentic, he is already under a magical spell that, for once, he cannot control.

The film is really another romcom that just happens to have been made by Woody Allen.  Romcoms depend more upon the chemistry of the leads than anything else and there is a surprising lack of chemistry here.  This situation is not helped by the fact that for all his sex appeal, Firth is, after all, 30 years older than Stone, and yet no one in the film even mentions this age difference.

So what drew Allen to this sweet, simple story? Here is one hypothesis.  The great magician/escapist Houdini turned 50 in 1924, and was touring in Europe. This is around the time Colin Firth’s 50-something magician Wei Ling Soo is wowing the Berlin crowds.

In the 1920s, Houdini joined a group of magicians-turned-militant debunker of psychics. He became as famous for his séance-busting as he was for his great escapes.  When he accused Arthur Conan Doyle’s medium wife of being a phoney, he made some enemies, one who might have contributed to his untimely death at 52.

Could it be that Allen felt an affinity with Houdini, another short, prodigy of Yiddish-speaking immigrants who changed his very Jewish name and began his successful career in New York City? And Allen’s wife, Soon-Yi Previn, is young enough to be his step-daughter – which she was.

Perhaps Colin Firth is a new type of Woody Allen alter-ego – one step removed.

Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer