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Saturday, February 21, 2015

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014)

Never one to sit and wait for inspiration when the muses don’t oblige, Woody Allen’s perfectly willing to filch. And so it goes for this pleasant enough, if slightly damp, rom-com about a world class illusionist (Colin Forth) who visits a fabulous estate on the Côte D’Azur in the pre-Crash ‘20s to unmask phony psychic Emma Stone. Often lovely to look at, in an off-hand sort of way that skirts travel brochure prettiness, its characters are out of a Noël Coward social comedy (like HAY FEVER), and its plot mechanics left in undeciphered shorthand. And why not? Allen knows we’re ahead of the story from the start, going so far as to hide his sole twist by under-casting a major role so we won’t see it coming too soon. All well and good. But what can be said of his mash-up of THE PRESTIGE/’06 and PYGMALION/’38; MY FAIR LADY/’64? (That’s PRESTIGE the book; film unseen here.) Not only in having Firth’s magician trying to takedown Stone’s phony medium, but in lifting the book’s unifying central magic device (‘In A Flash!’) as Firth’s big stage finish and as trump card for the film’s final ‘reveal’ before the romantic epilogue. And while Allen is hardly alone plying an umpteenth variation on the Professor Higgins/Eliza Doolittle relationship, he must be the first to rewrite ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face’ as a duo! (It comes in two finite sections with Firth’s near-Higgins partnered by Eileen Atkins as his aunt. Earlier, Stone joins them for a scene that might well have been a PYGMALION outtake.) And the film wraps on a near facsimile staging of MY FAIR LADY’s final curtain! No wonder Colin Firth puts so much Rex Harrison into his role.

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