Magic in the Moonlight @ The Ross

Stanley (Colin Firth) and Sophie (Emma Stone)

Stanley (Colin Firth) and Sophie (Emma Stone)

Whether or not we want to admit it, fall is releasing its slumber. The summer is nearing its end no matter how warm it may feel outside. Teachers have made their lesson plans. The children are in school; students are preparing the dorm rooms, and parents either are lamenting yet another absence of their young adult from the fold or are rejoicing over one more year of peace and tranquility. Whatever the emotion or event, before fall fully awakens and pokes winter in the eye, celebrate this annual change in seasons with a trip to The Ross to see Magic in the Moonlight directed by none other than Woody Allen. It’s a sweet heart of a film, sprinkled with the confection of fine acting by Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, and Simon McBurney.

Howard (Simon McBurney), Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) and Stanley (Colin Firth)

Howard (Simon McBurney), Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) and Stanley (Colin Firth)

Set in the gay 1920s, Firth plays Stanley Crawford, a very bah-humbug Englishman, who parlays a persona as a celebrated Chinese magician named Wei Ling Soo. His friend, Howard Burkan (played by the lovable Simon McBurney), invites him to the fabulous Côte d’Azur mansion owned by the Catledge family. His mission: to expose Sophie as a charlatan. Played by Emma Stone, Sophie is an American who claims to be clairvoyant and that she can have conversations with the deceased. Stanley jumps at the chance given that he has no tolerance for that sort of poppycock, and thus, has made a reputation of being the most famous debunker of spiritualists. Upon his arrival, we meet Aunt Vanessa, played by the beloved English actress Eileen Atkins of Upstairs, Downstairs fame, as well as members of the Catledge family. What follows is a series of provocative conversations and meditations on evidence and proof vs. feelings and intuition between Stanley and Sophie. There is an amusing séance whereby Grace Catledge (played by Jacki Weaver) finds out if her husband Henry answers from over yonder if he was faithful to her over the entire course of their marriage. Hamish Linklater is superb as Brice, Sophie’s ukulele playing star-struck fiancé. Brice is rich, but after he sings a few bars of a song, you realize that’s just about all there is to him.

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Woody Allen’s signature pulses throughout as the writer-director features a thickset of conversations —an art that is practically going the way of texting and checking facebook posts while in the company of others. Cinematographer Darius Khondji, who photographed Michael Haneke’s Amour, fine tunes the story with fabulous tight spaces and the glorious wide-open outdoors of the Cote d’Azur seen from a 1925 Alfa Romeo driven by Stanley. The interiors are made scrumptious by set designer Jille Azis. Sonia Grande’s costume designs are ethereal with characters dressed up in flapper glory with linens, cottons, furs, sequined headbands, and gowns. These film elements cast their own spell, and seduce you into what feels like Sunday twilight in a hammock.

But there is no ‘poof’ in the magic, and Stanley’s and Sophie’s interactions come off as this old curmudgeon trying to catch a child in a lie. Allen, however, settles on the usual romantic comedy cliché, and this turn in the end really undermined the story.

Mrs. Baker (Marcia Gay Harden) and Grace (Emma Stone) arrive at the mansion

Mrs. Baker (Marcia Gay Harden) and Grace (Emma Stone) arrive at the mansion

Still, viewing Magic in the Moonlight is worth closing out and welcoming the inevitable: the change in seasons, the empty nest, back-to-school, the start/end of romance, the completion of a project; the end of one; happiness, joy, a new job …

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Magic in the Moonlight plays through September 4 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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