What’s So Magical about ‘Magic in the Moonlight’?

Coming out of the theatre, I had three resounding questions that I could not seem to answer: 1) Why aren’t there more movies like this? 2) Why was this film tagged with a PG-13 rating? 3) Is this how “The Great Gatsby” (2013) should have looked? In an era of explosion heavy, apocalyptic destruction porn (as I call it), quiet gems like “Magic in the Moonlight” don’t often get the attention or market share they really deserve. The film has a lot going for it, and contains elements that even those viewers willing to pay $15 to see “Into the Storm” (2014) in 3D don’t yet realize they want:

Dialogue: Say what you will about the man’s personal life, but writer and director Woody Allen understands the art of verbal interaction. Let’s be clear: the lines in “Magic” are likely not representative of the way people actually talk (except Allen, who has successfully written himself into the character Howard Burken, played by Simon McBurney). But not only is the script incredibly witty – requiring the chops of talented actors like Eileen Atkins, Colin Firth and Emma Stone to convey meaning to words that may or may not align with the words themselves – but it also refuses to delve into cheap or crass terms, profanities, or obvious sexual references that are not even worthy of the appellation euphemism. In other words, apart from the several references to spirits of both the alcoholic and ectoplasmic variety (which, in all honesty is more prevalent in any one of the Harry Potter books), this movie is clean, and totally family friendly.

A 97-Minute Running Time: I know what you may be thinking, “how can a movie say everything it has to say in roughly an hour and a half? That’s about the length of just one episode of my favorite BBC miniseries.” And according to a fellow blogger (who is much more dedicated to researching his craft than I am), this film actually runs about 30 minutes short of the projected average movie length for 2014. The way I see it, this movie length is perfect for our increasingly shortening attention spans; it trusts us enough to accept that as long as we get a good laugh and an even better story, certain details can be omitted. The shortened length is refreshing, to say the least, and leaves you wanting more. There’s nothing worse than a movie that refuses to end.

Excellent Acting: Allen’s films have produced a number of Oscar worthy, and Oscar winning performances (most recently, Cate Blanchett’s leading role in Allen’s 2013 film “Blue Jasmine”). And while I wouldn’t expect a similar reaction to this latest installment (though the Academy may prove, and has repeatedly proven me wrong), I will say that you will find surprisingly good chemistry between the 53-year-old Firth, and the 25-year-old Stone. Somehow, it works: the stubborn childishness of the rationalist magician Stanley (Firth), seems to complement the apparent innocence and cool maturity of Stone’s Sophie. It will have Jane Austen fans reliving their favorite Darcy moments from Firth’s 1995 role in “Pride and Prejudice”. In other words, brace yourselves, fellas, this film gets a tad chickflickish.

I am not suggesting that these elements are what makes a movie magical. On the contrary, some of my favorite films have featured mediocre acting, explosions and warfare, and are much much longer than 97 minutes. The magic here is akin to the magic of a hurricane’s eye; somehow in the midst of all the superheroism, the plots to destroy the world, and all the other noise, you get a brief pause, set to serif font and 1920s jazz music, that makes us belief in disbelief again. Whether that’s real magic, or just well-placed props, is for you to decide.

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