Review: Magic in the Moonlight

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Magic–and by extension, spiritualism–has long been a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work. He was an amateur magician as a boy, reflected in his play The Floating Light Bulb, and magicians and mediums have appeared in his work throughout his career. Just off the top of my head I can think of A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Scoop, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Oedipus Wrecks, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

Now he is has made his definitive film about the subject, one would hope, with Magic in the Moonlight. Basically the movie is a dialogue about the rational mind versus the mind that believes in the unseen world, and whether a person is happier when one hangs on to delusions. This might make for an interesting conversation over drinks, but not a very good movie.

Colin Firth, in a bad performance, plays a famous magician (in a bit of tone-deaf racism, he disguises himself as a Chinese man, complete with Fu Manchu mustache). He is also an arrogant prick, and is well-known as a debunker of fraudulent mediums (much like Houdini was–the debunker part, that is). A colleague (Simon McBurney), takes him to the south of France to attempt to debunk an American spiritualist (Emma Stone), who has charmed a rich family.

Firth tries to discover her tricks, but can’t, and eventually comes to believe she’s the real thing, which opens his mind to wonders he never considered and briefly makes him a better person. I won’t go any further than that, but any smart person will figure out how it will end.

I think Magic in the Moonlight was meant to be a comedy, but it has no laughs. There are some mild japes here and there, but only one thing made me laugh, when a psychiatrist says of Firth, “He is a very unhappy man. I like him.” Most of the film is made up of Firth’s many speeches about the folly of believing in anything but the rational world. I agree with him, but he quickly grew tiresome.

Almost saving the picture is Stone, who is at her most winsome here. I swear her eyes were enlarged by CGI–she’s like one of those Walter Keane paintings. Stone, who has specialized in light comedy like this, is now due to play something more serious, as she’s kind of wasted here. The movie forces her and Firth together, and they have absolutely no chemistry (as well as being about thirty years different in age). They are the least convincing pair since Allen and Helen Hunt in Jade Scorpion.

There are many other common Allen tropes–the film is set in the ’20s, so we get a lot of period music and the idle rich just kind of wandering around. For a Woody Allen film, the pace is also very bad. Some scenes last a beat or two too long, and the the whole thing is discomfiting. Allen seems to have a good film every other time out of the box lately, so maybe he should just pass on every other idea, and throw it back into the pile.

My grade for Magic in the Moonlight: C-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

8 responses »

  1. I still see all of Allen’s films, but I didn’t even love Midnight in Paris (and disliked most of Blue Jasmine). Can’t imagine I’d even waste my time with this one.

  2. For whatever reason I just didn’t fall in love with Emma Stone when she came on the scene like everyone else. I found her more attractive once she went blonde in Spider-Man, though the movies suck, but then in the clips of this I’m digging her.

  3. JS, going by your previous comments on Allen’s films, would I be right in presuming you would rate this amongst Allen’s bottom six films or so? I think you disliked ‘Whatever Works’ more than this (I actually didn’t mind that film) but there wouldn’t be many others below it I’m guessing.

    Despite the generally underwhelming critical (and public so far) response, I’m mildly interested in seeing this as it’s a fairly interesting concept to me. And after all, how many more new Allen films are we going to be able to see at the cinema?

  4. Bottom six would be about right, maybe even worse, as I’m more likely than not to give his films a pass. It’s not as bad as Whatever Works or September, but it’s there with Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which at least had some laughs.

  5. I’ve seen September a couple of times and mostly enjoyed it. Whatever Works is unpleasant and was dated before a single frame was shot, but there are a few laughs. It also has a surprisingly warm finale.

  6. The only real clunker I’ve seen directed by Allen was ‘Anything Else’, which was so bad you’ve would’ve assumed his career would’ve been pretty much done after that one. Even though there are a still a fairly large chunk of Allen films I haven’t seen, I’d be surprised if any sunk to that level.

  7. You don’t miss a chance to dump on Anything Else, do you? Lol. As I think I’ve said before, I thought it was okay, and nowhere near as bad as Whatever Works.

  8. I guess it’s going to come up on multiple occasions as Allen (along with Hitchcock) are probably the two film identities that have by a considerable margin had the most coverage by us on this blog (and also the filmmakers that virtually all of us contributors have seen a fair chunk of the work and therefore have good discussion on).

    As I referred in my previous comment, there are some pretty significant gaps in my list of watched Allen films (especially 1990s) so hope to catch up on that over the coming period.

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