Is it possible to be so certain about everything all the time, until it really counts? What happens when you get totally duped by someone unexpected that could turn into something more romantic? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “Magic in the Moonlight,” which had two unlikely people connecting in the most unexpected way for both of them. Sure, the leads had some chemistry, but the movie’s stilted tone nearly derailed everything well before the film’s conclusion.
“Magic in the Moonlight” followed Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) who was on another successful European tour as his stage persona Wei Ling Soo that allowed him to dazzle audiences on-stage with his magic routine. Once the show was over, Stanley turned into the cranky pragmatic man he always was as he tried to find holes in everything that most people enjoyed. He blasted his employees for not doing everything he wanted and tended to alienate the people who cared about him the most. Stanley always saw things in a logical way and enjoyed pulling the proverbial rug out from under people. His long-time friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), who was also a fellow magician that wasn’t as successful as Stanley, recruited him to help debunk a possible phony psychic named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who was staying with some rich friends of Howard’s. Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) appeared to be helping the wealthy Grace (Jacki Weaver) finding closure by allowing the widow to talk to her deceased husband through Sophie, while getting Grace to donate a lot of money to a psychic school with a questionable purpose. Grace’s son Brice (Hamish Linklater) was also completely smitten with Sophie and was eager to make her his trophy wife. All seemed to be going according to plan for the Bakers, until Stanley’s arrival. He was eager to expose Sophie was a fraud that he didn’t take into account the possibility that she could be the real deal. She managed to figure some things out about him that few people knew and she also charmed his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins). In an effort to expose Sophie, Stanley started spending more and more time with her. He started to realize that the things he once treasured were no longer important and his feelings for Sophie were growing at a rapid pace to the point where the truth blindsided him. Will Stanley and Sophie be able to look past their differences long enough to have a future together?
In terms of questions, the movie pretty much resolved everything as quickly as it began. The film’s brisk 90 minute pace pushed the story along a little quickly to the point where some of the jokes weren’t truly developed and the movie’s patent screwball comedy formula didn’t leave room for too many surprises. The plot can simply be boiled down to two opposites meeting and fighting cute before their defenses started to melt. A misunderstanding is revealed just before romance truly blooms and the rest of the story is spent having the two people trying to find their way back to each other without losing too much credibility. Okay, the movie’s plot might sound rather simple, but it worked because Stone and Firth’s likable performances made viewers want to stick around knowing full well how the story was going to end long before the film reached the end credits. The movie wasn’t also helped by having the leads playing seemingly clueless characters caught in the worst case of bad timing. Stone and Firth made their banter almost seem like it came from an old Hollywood movie, but their dialogue seemed to repeat itself on at least more than one occasion. The story would’ve also benefited from not having such a predictable or even a neat conclusion. A little ambiguity could’ve gone a long way to shake things up for the better. It also didn’t help that the supporting cast was largely sidelined in order for Firth and Stone’s characters to be the film’s epicenter, which was a shame. It was a shame because Harden and Weaver could have had ample opportunity to create the ultimate screwball comedy moment if they were given the chance. Maybe, they’ll get the chance to do that in their next film projects. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, Firth and Stone led the pack as their characters pretty much dominated the bulk of the rather short film. Firth played his usual cynical pragmatic type of character who always poked holes in the unexplainable. He has done it before to great success in the past, but it sadly wasn’t used properly this time around. In the movie, Firth’s Stanley was portrayed as the ultimate cranky guy who would marry someone he didn’t love rather than risk getting his heart broken. He was able to make Stanley likable even when he was at his meanest, which made him the perfect foil for Stone’s sunny optimist character. She made Sophie someone who saw the good in people even when she had to be at her worst. Stone managed to match Firth with each carefully placed barb that managed to get under Stanley’s skin. Firth and Stone did have a strong rapport, which was best served when they were trading barbs rather than romantic gestures that seemed to be a total 180 from how the characters first met. Their strongest scene together came in the beginning when the characters first met and they both went to sizing each other up. It was hard to tell who was the victor because both Firth’s Stanley and Stone’s Sophie appeared to be transformed by the encounter for different reasons. Stone’s Sophie was the more challenging role because she had to make a psychic/con woman somewhat likable even though she could’ve been conning the most gullible rich people ever. She managed to bringing her usual relaxed charm to the role without making her appear too over the top as Sophie went to work during her readings. It’s just the shame that the rest of the movie didn’t truly match up to what both leads were bringing to the table.
Verdict: Firth and Stone deliver charming performances that would’ve been better served in a much stronger comedy that didn’t have such a familiar ending.
DVD Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)