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Magic in the Moonlight (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 98 minutes.

OK for children.

Writer/director Woody Allen has done it again with a thoroughly captivating romantic comedy with star turns by Emma Stone and Colin Firth, who create bewitching chemistry.

 Stone plays a clairvoyant, Sophie Baker, with astonishing power. So astonishing that magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) convinces his old friend, Stanley Crawford (Firth), whose persona is that of a Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo, the most celebrated magician of his age, (the 1920s), to try to unmask Sophie as a fraud.

Stanley introduces himself to Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) at the Côte d'Azur mansion of the Catlidge family, where the family matriarch, Grace (Jacki Weaver) is convinced that Sophie can get in contact with her deceased husband. Grace’s son, Brice (Hamish Linklater) is deeply infatuated with Sophie and constantly serenades her with his ukulele.

As I watched the film I thought that Stone looked more beautiful than ever before, and the softness of her face made me wonder if she was shot through the Doris Day filter. But there was a lot more to it than that.

Director of Photography Darius Khondji (who also worked with Woody on Midnight in Paris and To Rome With Love) used old Cinemascope lenses from the seventies shooting it on film with a special process to lower the contrast and soften the images. Then in post-production they made the images look like the “autochrome” appearance of the color film in the early 20th Century.

Says Khondji, “Woody asked me to convey (Stone’s) beauty on film and I hope I did. I felt she had a natural glow, this combination of the color of her skin, hair, and eyes.”

Comments Linklater, “She is a gorgeous girl but with that lighting she looked like she walked out of a fresco every single day.” I couldn’t say it better. It's not often that you will see an actress filmed more lovingly.

The locations, sets (Anne Seibel), and costumes (Sonia Grande) are stunning. I’ve rarely seen a film that captured a period as perfectly as this. Standing out is the red Alfa Romeo sports car that Stanley drives but there are other extraordinary old cars in the movie that look as if they just came off the showroom floor.

Firth is Henry Higgins-like in his arrogant grouchiness and the play between him and the seemingly ingenuous Sophie sparkles. The only thing that I found troubling was the May-December differences in their ages.

Woody’s laugh out loud script seems to be deeply influenced by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, so much so that near the end of the film the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (from Lerner & Lowe’s musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, that used a lot of GBS’s dialogue as lyrics) wafted through my mind as Stanley was speaking.

I don’t see movies more than once, but I’d love to sit through this one again.

July 23, 2014