“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

— Allen Ginsberg

It’s that time of year again. And just like a nice check in the mail, there’s a film from Woody on the screen.

This, the 47th Woody Allen film, is “Magic in the Moonlight,” with a dapple of magic and a sliver of moonlight. Despite a few short comings, it couldn’t come at a better time. Of course Woody wouldn’t be Woody without his shortcomings. Aren’t perfect people really boring?

It’s been a rainy summer, and we needed some fun people, not killers and vampires, zombies and Herculean heroes, but just a cup of dilettantes, magicians, dandies and lovely to look at con artists, and Woody gives them all to us.

We open in the “Cabaret-ish” Berlin in a theater where a Sally Bowles look-alike, German songstress Ute Lemper, sets the mood doing a cafe warm up for the magic of the world famous magician Wei Ling Soo, just as he is onstage making an elephant disappear.

Back stage, we are shocked, shocked, do you hear, to discover that under the pig tail and beanie, Wei is really Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) an arrogant, obnoxious, opinionated snob, who also happens to be one of the great magicians of the 20th century.

It’s summer on the French Riviera in 1928, the perfect place for both moonlight and magic, where the Riviera socialites are finally recovering from those boorish Boche who trampled on the nasturtiums in 1916. Currently, they’re trying to get in a few sets of tennis and cocktail parties before the even more boorish Hitler comes a calling.

Stanley is met backstage by Howard, (Simon McBurney) a childhood friend and so-so magician, who has long lived in Stanley’s towering shadow. Howard wants Stanley to come to the Riviera, witness a seance by an up and coming American clairvoyant, the beautiful, haunting Sophie Baker, (Emma Stone) who, accompanied by her mum, (Marcia Gay Harden) has captivated a wealthy family, and exposed her as a fraud. So far, no one has. Stanley accepts the offer, and we’re off.

Soon we are guests at the fabulous Cote d’Azur mansion of the wealthy Catlidge family. Stanley, of course, locks horns with the lovely crystal gazer, only to be stunned by how much she knows about his childhood.

Time and again, including during a seance, he challenges her only to lose more ground. Ever the skeptic, he tries to unveil her, even as he is falling in love.

By now Sophie has us all by the ears and we’re wondering if Woody is going to do a comic dabbling in the occult. No such luck. We smell a con job. But who is conning? Who is conned?

The film plays out like a 1930’s Broadway drawing room comedy with a stellar cast of characters, who bob in and out with great lines and costumes right out of “Downton Abbey.”

We meet Grace, the matriarch of the family, (a splendid Jacki Weaver playing the polar opposite of her mama in “Silver Linings Playbook,”) who is trying to communicate with her dead husband, and get advice about how to deal with her fortune. Oh, yes. Do we smell something?

And as in all drawing room comedies of that time, there is Grace’s pampered puff of a son Brice, (a delightful Hamish Linklater, the bad guy from HBO’s “Newsroom”) the “tennis anyone” juvenile lead, who dances around in white linen slacks, tennis sweater and Brilliantined hair. The incredibly wealthy Brice follows Sophie around, strumming a ukulele and singing Woody’s collection of great old melodies of the era. You’ll love them and him.

The wonderful Eileen Atkins lights up the patio as Howard’s wise old aunt.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji, who also did the moonlight for Woody in “Moonlight in Paris,” and is so good he could save a middle school student film, gives us a Cote d’Azur to die for. Jillie Azis’s sets stun, and Sonia Grande’s costumes would make German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld drool.

As to the script, Woody gets a B+ only because I love him. Woody’s a short scene comedy writer. Comedy only works in short bursts, arias are for opera. For Colin’s dialogue, Woody seems to channel Oscar Wilde, and Colin himself is channelling the late, great Clifton Webb, the master of snide, and you’re probably too young to remember either of them, and Colin is much too young to bring it off. Jacki Weaver, as usual, knocks her part out of the park.

Emma Stone is gorgeous and talented, and will grow out of the tricks some hack director taught her.

It’s summer and Woody is here. Next question?

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.