Posts Tagged ‘dramatic film’

Fascinating premise, flat drama: Light comedy and heavy philosophizing go nowhere in Allen’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’

August 16, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 16, 2014

Author’s note: Having noticed a handful of typos and textual loose ends in this post, I made some adjustments on Aug. 21, 2015. I’ve used boldface (like so) and strikethrough lines (like this) to mark all but the most minor changes. MEM

The newest Woody Allen movie, Magic in the Moonlight, revolves around the question of whether the universe is wholly confined to scientifically observable phenomena or whether there might exist spirit or spirits unseen. The irony is that writer-director Allen, in this movie, has crafted a subtext-free dramatic venture, one limited almost exclusively to superficial appearances and to the literal words and events that it depicts.

Allen’s protagonist is Stanley (Colin Firth), a magician whose brilliance is matched only by his cluelessness in social and emotional realms. When we meet him in 1928, on the eve of the finale of his European tour, he is about to embark on a vacation to the Galapagos Islands with his fiancée.

That all changes when Stanley receives a backstage visitor — Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), a childhood friend and longtime professional rival. Howard has spent the past few weeks at the French estate of the Catledges, a wealthy American family that has been divided by a young medium who purports to be in touch with the family’s deceased patriarch.

Howard has unsuccessfully striven to debunk the psychic as a fraud. When he beseeches his friend, who’s famous for exposing supernatural hoaxes, to lend a hand uncovering the scam, Stanley requires only a modicum of cajoling to get him to scrap his summer vacation. (The fiancée, featured in a single scene, hardly seems bothered that Stanley will be spending the next few weeks apart from her.)

Stanley’s first encounters with the supposed psychic, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), are intriguing. She instantly intuits his stage persona and holds a seance in which, somehow, a candle hovers in midair without any supporting mechanism that the skeptics are able to detect. When Sophie apparently discerns information about a secret lover after, from holding a strand of pearls owned by Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), who also resides in Southern France, Stanley immediately abandons his lifelong commitment to rationalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: