MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT Movie Review
For those of us that are familiar with Woody Allen’s prolific filmography, we’ve come to expect great Woody Allen films and passable Woody Allen films, in the case of Magic In The Moonlight, I couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of urgency with how the screenplay was put together, as if Woody had something he felt more passionate about lined up next and wanted to get this picture out of the way. With that being said, I would never accuse Woody of caring about what anyone thinks, he’ll keep making the exact films he wants to make and with enough time and care some of them will be brilliant, like I’ve come to see from him many times.
The film opens with a Chinese conjuror called Wei Ling Soo, a famous magician and the stage persona of Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), a bitter man with an extremely large ego and a zealous irritation with phony mediums. His friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), persuades him to go to the Côte d’Azur mansion of the Catledge family, that consists of mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen) and present himself under a businessman alias in attempt to debunk an alluring young clairvoyant Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) who is staying there with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). When he arrives at the Catledge villa, he finds a woman convinced that Sophie can help her contact her late husband, and also finds that Sophie has Brice falling head over heels in love with her.
When Stanley begins spending time with Sophie during his investigation, he soon finds himself being cast under her spell like everyone else and begins to doubt his own beliefs about spirituality and scientific rationality. Allen seems to be meditating on how being consistently logical can take the joy out of life and the relationship between atheists and spiritualists who often judge one another with a superiority complex and engage the other to battle until one surrenders and switches allegiances. There’s plenty of witty dialogue that’s expected from Allen’s work, yet at the same time he’s riffing on previous work from a time that ran it’s course. There’s a scene set during a rainstorm in an observatory, that’s practically lifted from Manhattan.
The costumes, sets, photography and ’20s jazz music all help create an immersive experience but the attempt at intricate satirical approach to the story lacks the bite that Allen is capable of and his social commentary has been used to much greater effect in previous work. I respect the fact that Allen seems to be riffing on the reactions we have to our own mortality, though that theme was used to greater use in Annie Hall, I couldn’t help but feel a great Nietszche vibe on the influence over writing this film, which I can certainly respect.
After last year’s Blue Jasmine proved that Woody Allen still has plenty of greatness to offer in his long going career, I’m sure that his lesser yet enjoyable work will continue to justify his determined output and hopefully we’ll see his career end on a note of greatness, like it deserves.