Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth and Emma Stone
Woody Allen practically makes a movie every year. That being said, it’s just expected that there will be a number of memorable ones, and a good amount of stinkers. Unfortunately, Magic in the Moonlight falls under the stinkers. I understand what Allen was attempting to do with the film. If there was something I did love about the movie, it was its themes of skepticism and rational thought versus faith and emotion, but he was never able to execute these themes properly.
Starting with our protagonist, Stanley (Firth), a world famous magician, he’s brought in by a friend (Simon McBurney) to debunk a young female American who claims that she can communicate with the dead and has a specialty for reading people’s pasts. The extremely skeptical Stanley is almost too excited to exploit the American, Sophie (Stone), but slowly she begins to break him down with her charm, wit, and unique gift.
I’ll admit, the first half of the film is very good. It’s light-hearted and carried by Colin Firth’s performance as the arrogant magician who considers everyone below him. When Sophie again and again surprises Stanley, Firth is able to truly show a sense of shock and bewilderment. Before our eyes, Stanley becomes humble with his understanding of the world. From a man who thought he knew everything, he becomes a man who not only questions everything he believed, but he accepts that there might be a part of the world he cannot comprehend. In turn, he becomes a happier man and he has Sophie to thank.
But then the film runs into its major problem, which is a number of flimsy and predictable sequences leading to the very end. Instead of concentrating on its central themes, Magic in the Moonlight turns into a romance without any real chemistry between Stanley and Sophie. All of its charm and lightness is turned back into Stanley’s blackened heart for the world. And for almost no good reason at all, the conclusion sticks out like a sore thumb for clumsy and lazy writing.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t have much expectation going into Magic in the Moonlight, so I can happily take away its well-done first half and its themes. But overall, the film becomes forgettable and there isn’t any good reasons to ever revisit this movie again. For what it’s worth, I loved Midnight in Paris (2011) and Blue Jasmine (2013) gave Cate Blanchett an Oscar (along with two other nominations). Hopefully, next year Allen will return with another winner, keeping the pattern intact.