"Magic in the Moonlight" and "Begin Again" ***spoilers***

If you’re planning on seeing either of these films and don’t want them entirely ruined for you, please don’t read this post. 

Magic in the Moonlight

I’m not a Woody Allen aficionado; I find his films hit or miss.  He seems more concerned with quantity than quality.  When his movies are good, they’re great, and when they’re not, they’re pretty fucking awful (cough, cough, “Melinda and Melinda,” cough, cough). 

A quick set up: Colin Firth plays Stanley Crawford, an arrogant, condescending, and abrasive magician who is thoroughly convinced that there must be a scientific, logical explanation for everything and leads a joyless life in which he mocks almost everyone he interacts with.  Oh, and by the way, he takes a sort of sadistic delight in defrauding spiritualists.

Enter a young and beautiful spiritualist: Sophie Baker, played by Emma Stone.

Classic rom com tropes ensue.  Witty dialogue, romantic leads taking the piss out of each other, a montage of said leads spending time together (even getting caught in the rain after their car breaks down).  Of course, they’re both involved with someone else; Stanley has a fiancée who’s perfect match for him on paper, and Sophie is being courted by a young, bronzed blueblood who serenades her with a ukulele.   

Stanley finally admits his belief in Sophie’s ability after she tells him a series of secrets she couldn’t have possibly known.  Now that he believes there’s something truly magical in the universe, he gets a new lease on life and actually starts enjoying it.  After spending a week together, Sophie starts developing romantic feelings for Stanley; when she tells him this, he shuts her down.  There’s no big, sweeping music or reciprocal declarations of love; he’s basically just like, “Wait, what?  You like like me?  That’s madness, you silly girl.”  This is true to his character; he’s insensitive and socially inept, and her feelings don’t make sense to him.     

But at the end of the film, Stanley suddenly realizes that he does have romantic feelings for Sophie, and that even though his fiancée is compatible with him in many ways, he doesn’t feel any passion for her.  The problem with this is that throughout the movie, Stanley has been a TOTAL DOUCHE to Sophie.  In almost all of their interactions, he’s patronizing, insulting, and demeaning.  Even as he’s proposing marriage to her, he tells her that he’s doing it as a favor to her and she is an ingrate (actual word used in the film) if she doesn’t take him up on it.  She doesn’t.  And that’s where the movie should have ended. 

Instead, Woody Allen totally ruins it by having her sweep in at the last minute and accept Colin Firth’s proposal before he kisses her, aaaaaand cut.  The end.  There you have it!  Perfect, instant love.  The words, “Oh, COME on!” expectorated themselves forcefully from my mouth as I watched, horrified.   

So why am I writing about a Woody Allen film — a film that’s really more about faith and the desire to believe in something than it is about relationships — in a sex/education blog?  Because I think the movie, despite its charm (and it is entertaining in the way that most romantic comedies are; even Stanley’s condescending quips are delightfully cynical and snarky), conveys some seriously harmful messages about relationships (as most romantic comedies do). 

For one thing, Sophie’s choice between Brice (the young, rich stock character) and Stanley is presented as a binary choice, and one that she must make now.  All of the characters assume she will marry Brice because even though she obviously doesn’t care for him, he’s rich.  I just kept thinking, “Run!  Run, Sophie!  There are more options in the world!”    

Secondly, the whole reason Brice says he wants to marry her is because she “knows him better than he knows himself.”  It doesn’t actually seem like he loves Sophie, but rather her supernatural ability.  It doesn’t seem like Stanley loves her either, for that matter — he likes that she makes him feel… something, but he doesn’t really love her.  Both of them see her only in the capacity of what she can do for them. 

The worst of the lot, though, is that Sophie decides, in the end, to marry Stanley — even though he repeatedly degrades her throughout the short time (less than a month!) they know each other.  This confirms for all the self-proclaimed “nice guys” in the world that women really do want to be with men who treat them like shit.

Sigh.  At least the setting, costumes, and cinematography are lush and inspiring.

Begin Again

It was like drinking a cold beer after hiking all day long.  It is so refreshing to see a movie where the (presumably) heterosexual male and female lead characters have a deep and fucking meaningful connection that is neither romantic nor sexual.  It does get a bit cheesy at times (of course it’s unrealistic; it’s a musical), but it’s so lovely and endearing that you forgive John Carney for those moments.  There’s no huge, dramatic, artificial conflict in the middle to move the plot along; the film doesn’t need that. 

Keira Knightly doesn’t end up with the guy who broke her heart; she doesn’t get up on stage with him and she doesn’t forgive him.  Nor does she have any obnoxious “You go, girl!” moment where she gets to publicly leave him as you might see in a romantic comedy.  She simply rides off into the summer evening, alone and perhaps grieving her lost relationship, but knowing that things will get better.  To that I say, Hell Yes.       

Also, the songs are catchy.  This movie is delightful and will make you feel good about life.  Go see it… but not for Adam Levine’s acting or KK’s singing. 

One last thing: I just kept thinking throughout the film, “Haven’t any of these characters heard of ethical non-monogamy?  I mean, maybe they should pick up a copy of The Ethical Slut.” 

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