Before 2014 ends, here's our yearly date with our dear Woody Allen. Despite being a devoted fan, one has to admit the quality of his latest works is far from, sometimes light-years distant from, his better moments, and for that reason, there's a growing little fear his next attempt is going to be a serious let down, like “From Rome with Love” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”. On the other hand, even this less memorable Allen period has offered moments of genuine brilliance, with top-notch “Midnight in Paris” summoning all the talents the director has.
So where does "Magic in the Moonlight" stands? Luckily, in a much comfortable zone. Without achieving the levels of accomplishment of "Paris", but delightfully pleasant and full of undeniable charms. A lightweight affair, armed with a sweet-natured contrivance, solved without much mystery, but packed with grace, thanks to the cast and the funny (maybe not memorable) storyline, mixing magic and romance.
The plot of “Magic in the Moonlight” is pretty straightforward. Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, playing the traditional Allen's alter ego), is a famous magician (Wei Ling-Soo), but also a realist-pessimist person (Nietzsche meeting Kierkegaard meeting Schopenhauer), skeptic and with a knack to identify a fraud when he sees one. That's exactly what his friend and also fellow magician Howard ask him to do: help him unmask Sophie Baker (played by Emma Stone), a supposed clairvoyant, who is amazing a wealthy family with her ability to guess things she couldn’t possibly know and contacting with the missed ones. As you might guess, too, Sophie is not just an intriguing woman, with Stanley slowly believing she might be a real psychic, but also an adorable one. summarized on Stanley's great one liner "Her smile is rather winning".
Granted, you see the romantic side coming way even before the two appear on screen. Is predictable, sure, but it doesn't harm the movie as one would expect. Two obvious reasons explain why. One is the cast. It's impossible not to fall by Emma Stone impossible eyes and magnetic light in her face, with these flapper looks. And it's hard not to laugh with Colin Firth's messed up head. The skeptic collapsing, his solid way of thinking no longer valid, while neglecting he's starting to have feelings for Sophie. The dialogues between the two (funny, philosophic, flirtatious) are the highlights of the film. And they are also surrounded by a whole bunch of secondary roles that, like the memorable, almost final dialogue between Stanley and his aunt Vanessa, played by the great Eileen Aitkins, puts the cherry on top of the cake. The Cote d'Azur impressive surroundings also does help.
The second, and luckily the main plot line of the movie is to discover whether or not Sophie is a fake, and Allen's has a far more interesting "trick" to play here, building up the mystery in a simple, yet effective way, letting the movie develop and finally, end in a well-rounded, thoroughly satisfying manner. Again, not groundbreaking or rating high among Allen’s filmography, but entertaining, smart and rather enchanting. Good ol' Woody doing some magic, again.