“Warm and breezy” is a phrase not often applied to the mostly funny-yet-angst-ridden films of Woody Allen, but it’s a fair description of Magic in the Moonlight. A period piece set in the 1920s and shot amid the natural splendor of the French Riviera, the film may be the first from Allen to qualify as a traditional summer movie. Colin Firth plays Stanley Crawford, an arrogant Englishman (and secretly the world’s greatest magician, Wei Ling Soo) who’s asked by an old friend to expose young, successful and very American psychic Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) as a fraud. It doesn’t take long to guess how their relationship might evolve. But it’s all an excuse to further explore a theme that lies at the heart of Allen’s work, especially classics like Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters: rationality and cynicism vs. faith in the possibility of love.
Allen and cinematographer Darius Khondji shot Magic in the Moonlight on film using vintage lenses from the 1970s to give it an antique glow — Stone looks radiant in the manner of the early Hollywood stars. In its best moments, the film seems inspired by the playful otherworldliness of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but some scenes feel awkward or forced and betray the intended lightness of the story. You either go with the film and choose to forgive its shortcomings or you don’t. It may not be top-shelf Woody Allen, but the surprisingly sweet Magic in the Moonlight does have something heartfelt and important to say.
Magic in the Moonlight starts today, Friday, August 15, at the Elmwood Palace and Westbank Palace theaters.