Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Magic in the Moonlight


(Contains spoilers) Woody Allen has his genius days, and his mediocre days. This is one of the latter. It’s an amusing romantic trifle.

It is 1928, and Colin Firth is a famous stage magician who goes to the home of a fabulously rich family in the south of France, intent on exposing a young woman who claims to be a psychic. Right away we think of Houdini. As if we didn’t have enough clues, in the opening scene, disguised as his stage persona of Wei Ling Soo, he makes an elephant vanish. Houdini was famous for this stunt, as well as his relentless debunking of “psychics.”

He retains his skepticism for a long time, in spite of the increasingly personal insights into his life this sweet young thing gives him. But finally he is won over, and finds joy in the realization that his pessimistic, scientific view of the world may not be all there is.

Later, he says that he must have fallen in love with the girl at first sight. I can believe it, because there is no other explanation for a magician with his chops to be taken in by such transparent bullshit. His mind must have been clouded. I sympathize, because Emma Stone as the young woman won me over, too, with her wonderful acting. But I didn’t believe she was psychic for an abracadabra minute. There are several techniques charlatans use to read your mind. There is the “cold reading,” which just means that the longer you do this stuff, the better you are at seeing clues no one else notices. The other is research. Even in 1928 there were many, many things you could find out about a rich mark. And maybe the most important is an accomplice. All these things are present in this scam.

So he finds out, and is disillusioned. But the point of the story is that he is now unhappy again, a total jerk like he was before. The only way to be really happy in life, or so this moral goes, is to be open to the possibility of miracles. Falling in love is the biggest miracle of all, and needs no spiritual hocus-pocus to happen.

Nothing new there, and even skeptical me can accept that. The main attraction here is the acting and the gorgeous settings. Once finally out of Manhattan, Woody has indulged himself in the finest scenery Europe has to offer. I already praised Emma Stone, and Colin Firth needs a shout-out, too. What he reminded me of was Henry Higgins, though Emma is no Pygmalion and he is no teacher. Misogynistic, egotistic, socially inept, incapable of saying anything nice to anyone even if he is proposing to her, and yet vulnerable inside. I was sort of hoping she would say no to the jerk, but I think she will probably be okay because, in the end, she is stronger than he is. And he’s sure a better choice than the ukulele-strumming, tone-deaf rich boy who want to take her away on his fabulous yacht.