Movies: Magic in the Moonlight

If Blue Jasmine = A Streetcar Named Desire, then Magic in the Moonlight = Pygmalion My Fair Lady. So much so that I was dying for Colin Firth to say, "I've grown accustomed to her face" at the end.

The film is set in 1928 and stars Firth as Stanley, a stage magician whose best friend Howard hits him up to come visit friends in the south of France. Howard is also a magician, though not as successful as Stanley, and he wants Stanley's help in debunking a young American medium named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone). Sophie is leeching off Howard's rich friends, and now the heir to the family fortune—a would-be Freddy dimwit named Bryce in this incarnation—is set on marrying her.

Okay, so it's not exactly My Fair Lady, but the characters are there. Allen has turned it on its head somewhat, so that [spoilers] Howard (who would be Pickering) is putting one over on his old friend. But the end result is the same: Stanley first discards Sophie then realizes he loves her, even as she is engaged to Freddy Bryce.

Thematically, this one hearkens back to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger in that it explores the idea that anything (specifically, the spiritual and/or metaphysical) that makes a person happy, however seemingly absurd, may not be all bad. And yet the lens certainly is designed for the viewer to shake his or her head and think how stupid such people must be to believe these things. Good for them, we're supposed to say, that they are so simple-minded they can take comfort in these dumb things.

The truth is, if one thinks past the immediate gratification of the happily ever after, Sophie is going to spend her life living down that trick. Given his character, it's difficult to believe Stanley will ever let her forget it. He's claimed to have forgiven her, but . . . The chances of her being any more happy with Stanley than Bryce are questionable. And the fact that Stanley throws over a woman his own age in order to be with someone half that is a little disturbing, too (not least because it's Woody Allen). I mean, the quality of Bryce's love is that of infatuation, whereas Stanley offers more of a fatherly mentor figure. Bryce's infatuation might eventually wear off, but at least he and Sophie have things in common: they're of an age, like the same music. Life with Stanley promises to be stricter, more like a tutelage, and with fewer fun travel options.

Of course, one could say the same of My Fair Lady. Eliza stays with the much older Professor Higgins rather than accepting Freddy. But there's something about the way My Fair Lady is constructed that leads us to believe she will be happier with Higgins. I didn't find that in this film.

I also found the turning point abrupt—the moment in which Stanley begins to believe Sophie really is a medium. It felt like a slap, and I almost hoped he was putting something over on her.

In truth, I never once questioned that it was a scam, and it was pretty easy to trace the thread back to Howard. But that did not prevent me from liking the movie. I didn't love it (and I do love My Fair Lady and Pygmalion), but I enjoyed it. Then again, I'll watch Colin Firth in just about anything. Bonus points for his dapper wardrobe, but deducting a few for his inability to dance.

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