Friday, July 25, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

Woody Allen's 2014 movie, Magic in the Moonlight, was released today.  It seems to hit on many of his favorite themes:

     --  Jazz age setting and music.  Check

     -- Psychic beliefs.  Check

     -- Nietzsche quotes.  Check

     -- Skeptical Woody Allen character.  Check

     -- Dewy-eyed love interest.  Check

Many critics think this movie is charming.  Many others find it cringe-inducing.

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times finds it thin and trite,  "less a movie than the dutiful recitation of themes and plot points conducted by a squad of costumed actors."

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal takes the other position.  He concludes his review by calling the movie "a 97-minute seance that draws you in, spins you around, subverts your suppositions, levitates your spirits and leaves you giddy with delight."

Well.  What to make of all this?

Here's the setup:  A crusty professional skeptic, played by Colin Firth, is deployed to the south of France to unmask a psychic played by Emma Watson and, amid discussions of the meaning of life, finds himself beguiled by her.

Obviously, part of the discomfort derives from the fact that the skeptic, played by a man a couple months shy of 60, abandons his age-appropriate girlfriend for the psychic, played by a 25-year-old woman best known as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies.

This raises all the old arguments about Woody Allen's own domestic kerfuffles of some years back.  If asked about this, he probably would say again, "The heart wants what it wants."

Allen's movies roll out at a reliable pace, and this one sounds like a number of others from his oeuvre.  If you go to see it -- and I haven't decided yet whether I will -- you will know what to expect.


The director's last film, Blue Jasmine, was entirely different.  It consisted almost totally of an excellent performance by Kate Blanchett as a desperate, self-absorbed snob's tailspin into poverty.  The movie skewered her shallowness but also made her foils -- a working-class sister and the sister's boyfriend -- into such crude cartoon characters that I wondered afterward if maybe Allen has lived too long on the Upper East Side.

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