REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight

23 07 2014

Magic in the MoonlightAt a Cannes Film Festival press conference back in 2010, writer/director Woody Allen opined rather extensively about his views on life.  Among the misanthropic murmurs, he remarked, “I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

Four years later, “Magic in the Moonlight” arrives in theaters to once again hammer home Allen’s personal philosophy as expressed in the quote above.  You know, just in case we happened to miss it in any of his other four dozen or so films.

This pessimistic fatalism goes down, however, quite palatably here because Allen casts two leads far more charming than himself: Colin Firth and Emma Stone.  Though they’re spouting lines that could make Nietzsche chuckle, the film never loses its mirthful mood thanks to the effervescence that the duo radiates.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” similar to 2009’s “Whatever Works,” has the feel of an undeveloped comedy from Allen in the ’70s.  That tenor is achieved by the nature of the concept, yet it’s also due in large part to the spell that Stone casts over it.  Allen clearly sees in her the same kind of alluring wit and personality that Diane Keaton immortalized in his films; it’s simply delightful to watch a wide-eyed Stone revel in one of his creations.

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REVIEW: Lola Versus

11 09 2012

Lola Versus” features Greta Gerwig as a poor, pitiful New York girl facing down all the number of challenges that confront her in the oh-so-austere loft life.  We get to listen to her talk about how much sodium she is eating during her post-breakup Pop Chip binge, putting all those other rom-com stars to shame with their tubs of ice cream!  We revel in her Whole Foods, granola-style quirkiness, exemplified by her love of macrobiotic food, her modern design tastes, and her charming mild case of flightiness.

Gerwig’s Lola is too much of a paradigm, too sanitized for us to really buy that she could have any real problems.  Even beyond the white, wealthy, whiny argument that pestered Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love,” she’s been so watered-down to an essence that we don’t buy into her struggles because she really shouldn’t be having them.  She’s an ideal, and movies that call into question the validity of an archetype generally have much more magnified scopes and stakes than this.

In addition, this movie has basically been invalidated by Lena Dunham‘s “Girls” and feels even more irrelevant now that Zooey Deschanel has gone mainstream in “New Girl.”  (It would have merely been redundant in a post-“(500) Days of Summer” world.)  Lola’s journey has been tread a number of times in the past few years, and those who have gone on before her have done it with far more creativity, more spunk, more zeal, and more veracity.

Gerwig is far better when she can be a little bit mopey and downtrodden.  Real girls don’t face a sea change in their life at the age of 29 with the hopeful whimsy slightly tinged with vacuous sadness, and Gerwig shouldn’t be forced to sell this unconvincing lie.  It’s useless, throwaway boondoggle material that takes away the time you could have used to watch three episodes of “Girls.”  C