La Cote d’Azur

Magic in the Moonlight

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Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver, Simon McBurney

In the tradition of Bullets over Broadway and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, director Woody Allen returns to the period piece in the gorgeous and witty Noel Coward inspired drawing room comedy Magic in the Moonlight set on the French Riviera.

After the success of Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen returns to Europe and in a sublime casting match has Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) simply incisive and caustic as Stanley Crawford a cynical British magician who at the request of his friend Howard Burkan travels to the French Riviera to uncover the true intentions of a young and beguiling spiritualist Sophie Baker superbly played by Emma Stone. Naturally Sophie is preying on the good intentions of an extremely wealthy American family who are spending the summer at their villa on the La Cote d’Azur.

With a vibrant dose of jazz, sparkling costumes and vintage cars, Magic in the Moonlight sets the lavish scene for a truly witty melodrama inspired by playwright Noel Coward and definitely influenced by the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The year is 1928, a year before the Great Depression and smart society is still abundantly hopeful and rich. This is Tender is the Night without the drama.

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Sophie has befriended the naïve and wealthy Brice played by Hamish Linklater who at the request of his bejewelled mother, a brief cameo by Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) invokes the art of séances and acts as a sort of naïve, yet beautiful medium to the dead, more specifically her late husband, a billionaire Pittsburgh industrialist.

Emma Stone is wonderful and crafty as Sophie who soon falls in love with Stanley after a failed trip to Provence whereby the couple are trapped in a celestial observatory to avoid a torrential downfall. There in this observatory they gaze at the moonlight over a luminous Mediterranean sea, a scene which surely inspires the film’s whimsical title.

This is an elegant, witty and utterly charming period piece with Woody Allen writing intelligent and naturally comic dialogue without the angst characteristic of his contemporary American films featuring neurotic Manhattan ramblings.

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That’s because in a wise casting decision the famous actor/director does not feature in Magic in the Moonlight and leaves all the brilliant acting to his shining ensemble cast, especially Firth who reverts back to his egotistical slightly arrogant roles that he is so good at playing like Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Firth delivers the lines with a crisp diction and the best scenes are with him and fellow British thespian Eileen Atkins who gives an astonishing performance as his affectionate but wise Aunt Vanessa.

Magic in the Moonlight is whimsical, beautifully constructed and wonderfully acted in a lovely Sunday afternoon sort of way, showing that Allen can still make films which delight audiences as he sheds the angst and focuses on the inexplicable energy of human society and their coy yet quirky interactions.

Whilst the rest of the cast make up a glittering ensemble, including Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater and Catherine McCormack, it is really the sparkling onscreen connectivity of Firth and Stone as the two foils of their own deceptions, two semi-sophisticated adults thrown together in paradise whose romance blossoms despite their age difference and respective ambitions.

Magic in the Moonlight evokes a romantic era long since vanished and is highly recommended viewing for those that relish nostalgic cinema.

 

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