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First Reviews of Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight' Spell a Minor Effort

Thompson on Hollywood By Nick Newman | Thompson on Hollywood July 18, 2014 at 3:18PM

With an embargo having been lifted at midnight, the first wave of reviews for Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” are coming fast. At first blush, it seems to follow the pattern established by Woody Allen’s later years: a highly acclaimed effort ("Blue Jasmine," in this case) finds itself followed by a slightly pleasant, ultimately airy trip.
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Colin Firth in "Magic in the Moonlight"
Colin Firth in "Magic in the Moonlight"

With an embargo having been lifted at midnight, the first wave of reviews for Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” are coming fast. At first blush, it follows the pattern established by Woody Allen’s later years: a highly acclaimed effort ("Blue Jasmine," in this case) finds itself followed by a slightly pleasant, ultimately airy trip.

Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on how much you like Allen's work in the first place — after all, it’s unlikely that any new film at this point will shift your perception. Along with some scenic south-of-France locales, critics' interest is sparked mostly is the work of Colin Firth and Emma Stone.

See the round-up below:

Scott Foundas, at Variety, is among the most positive, referring to “Magic” as “a high-spirited bauble that goes down easy thanks to fleet comic pacing”:

Whenever Firth and Stone are onscreen together, the movie sings; the rest of the time it’s never less than a breezy divertissement. As usual, Allen has filled out the cast with a who’s-who of gifted character actors, some of whom have actual roles, while others seem like onlookers at a garden party. The sly Eileen Atkins fares best as Stanley’s crafty aunt in Provence, while Marcia Gay Harden gets a few choice bits as Sophie’s bullish stage mother. Improbably cast as a Pennsylvania matriarch for the second time in as many years (after “Silver Linings Playbook”), ’70s Aussie screen icon Jacki Weaver rounds out the ensemble as Linklater’s equally bewitched mom.

Time Out New York’s Keith Uhlich claims Magic “casts a lovely, lingering spell”:



The more things change, the more Woody Allen stays the same: It’s a comfort that this singular artist’s worldview remains so staunchly his own—often archaically against fashion—and that nothing seems to halt his movie-a-year pace. (This, after a year in which he found widespread critical and commercial success with "Blue Jasmine," and harshly refuted adopted daughter Dylan Farrow’s molestation charges.) The director’s latest—a lighthearted romance set in 1920s Germany and France—won’t do much to sway proponents or detractors from their own perspectives, though taken at face value, it’s one of Allen’s most charmingly conceived and performed efforts.

On the other end of the spectrum is Inkoo Kang. As far as The Wrap are concerned, Allen’s latest is “another insulting exercise in convincing audiences that we should embrace those who love to hate us”:



To make the romance all the more unappealing (and unlikely), the generation-wide age gap between Firth and Stone is never mentioned, even though the latter is frequently dressed in flowered hats and cotton-candy-pink frocks to make her look even younger than her 25 years.

As it turns out, there is a third-act twist, a rather thinly motivated one that promisingly upends Stanley and Sophie's relationship while making their romance no more palatable. If Allen once rejuvenated, even reinvented, the romantic comedy, he now only contributes to its demise with the kind of “sugar-coated claptrap” his protagonist so intensely despises.

Then there are those who land in-between. Yours truly, at The Film Stage, was mixed on what strikes as a pleasantly diverting experience that never really gets anywhere:



With little fat on the actual narrative, "Magic in the Moonlight‘s" efficient clip evokes the better pictures of that era, Allen even having the courtesy to wrap up as soon as the impression it’s running a bit long has started to settle in. Since so little of this movie holds together, there’s still a contradicting effect at play: when the final scene is almost stumbled into, and when a concluding fadeout hits just as the last ribbon is being tied, I wound up leaving the theater as if nothing had happened — no sounds, no images, no feelings. How nice it would be if this was like watching something vanish before your very eyes; how unfortunate that it’s more akin to watching a small cloud of smoke suddenly appear, briefly stand, then quickly dissipate right before I’m put back onto Madison Avenue, ready to get on with the rest of my day.

THR's Todd McCarthy deems the title "a very minor entry in the prolific director’s string of Europe-set films":

Lushly shot on film and in widescreen by "Midnight in Paris" DP Darius Khondji, sumptuously decked out with period costumes by Sonia Grande and upper-crust settings by production designer Anne Seibel and awash in upbeat period ditties on the soundtrack, "Magic in the Moonlight" does have a not-disagreeable expensive-vacation vibe to it. But the one-dimensional characters are mostly ones you’d want to avoid rather than spend a holiday with.

In most Allen films, such as his last, "Blue Jasmine," any number of supporting roles are deftly drawn and linger in the mind. Such is not the case here; as Sophie’s mother, for example, Marcia Gay Harden has absolutely nothing to do, while McBurney’s role is that of a mere facilitator.

For Little White Lies, David Ehrlich (positively) sums it up as "the kind of story that Allen could write in his sleep":

"Magic in the Moonlight" is a bit like having lunch with your aging parents: strained, overly familiar, sometimes amusing but seldom genuinely funny — you count the minutes until it’s over only to spend the rest of the day wishing that it had never ended. A quintessential “late” work from a filmmaker who has, in his waining and controversial years, become less of an artist than he is an institution, this new one finds Woody Allen effortlessly regurgitating his most familiar modes and tropes with such élan that the movie’s mediocrity ends up being its greatest charm.

Eric Kohn, writing at Indiewire, tells us this is “exactly what it looks like”:

The director, who turns 80 next year, cranks out a movie per year with an arbitrary track record that often depends on whether the material provides enough substance for his cast to do something interesting with it. "Magic in the Moonlight" belongs to the pool of lesser Allen comedies, yet Firth and Emma Stone — as the alleged necromancer Sophie Baker, the object of Stanley's scrutiny and eventually his affections — bring all the zany energy they can muster. Unfortunately, unlike Cate Blanchett's remarkable capacity to wrestle the material of last year's "Blue Jasmine" into her own furious showcase, the actors are provided with a limited range of options.

Speaking for The Playlist, Rodrigo Perez considers this affair “an occasionally delightful, if familiar and sometimes strained comedy”:



But where "Moonlight" begins to falter is in its desire to restate these opposing perspectives on life over and over again, particularly in the case of Firth. What begins as amusingly sarcastic and mocking observations that roll off his tongue rather mellifluously begin to curdle into acidic repetitious monologues that are far too on the nose.

But the combative tête-à-tête between Firth and Stone is largely watchable and their chemistry is natural and effortless. Firth in particular drives his incorrigibly cranky character right to the edge of unsympathetic and yet gracefully sidesteps the audience from ever loathing him outright. And as their mutual attraction begins to grow, we too become smitten with their infectiously endearing dynamic.

This article is related to: Woody Allen, Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight, Reviews, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.