Review: ‘The Magic Life’

"The Magic Life"

There's a lot of magic in "The Magic Life," but not a lot of magic to it.

There’s a lot of magic in “The Magic Life,” but not a lot of magic to it. Wrangling a handful of would-be professional magicians all trying a little career abracadabra, helmer Nelson Cheng fails to find any substantive connections among his subjects, and what results is a motley collection of less-than-electrifying stories. The always-thirsty market for magic could make some biz materialize, but theatrical will be trickier.

Cheng’s subjects, all Los Angeles transplants, are plenty likable, with varying levels of virtuosity. Michael Friedland, 32, leaves his family’s New York real-estate business to do impressive card tricks at the Magic Castle, while Matthew Noah Falk, 25, struggles to make it as a street magician on Hollywood Boulevard. Yang Yang, 17, from Beijing, comes to study magic and shows the greatest promise: Although his act is quite accomplished, he’s also a real charmer. Pic inevitably will be compared, unfavorably, with J. Clay Tweel’s terrific 2010 docu “Make Believe”; when one of Tweel’s cast makes an inadvertent cameo here, it drives the point home.

The Magic Life


A Park Row Prods. presentation. Produced, directed by Nelson Cheng.


Camera (color), Chun Ming Huang; editor, Erik Dugger; music, Andrew Barkan; sound, Tom Rogers. Reviewed at IFC Film Center, New York, Aug. 11, 2012. (In DocuWeeks.) Running time: 73 MIN.


Michael Friedland, Matthew Noah Falk, Yang Yang.

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