Magic in the Moonlight

Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Erica Leerhsen, Eileen Atkins, and Simon McBurney

I was probably one of the few movie bloggers who was on the West Coast this week but not in San Diego.  As I was departing Seattle on Friday morning, I pondered all the fun movie buffs are having in Hall H right about now.  Alas, I'm back on the East Coast, and I've got movies to review.  Given that I'm slated to cover indies this weekend, I made my way over to E Street Cinema for Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight expecting a healthy size crowd.  After all, it's Woody.  I walked in surprisingly to find that I was the only person in the theater.  Admittedly, I'm not well-read on the latest and greatest in the Hollywood gossip columns.  Though I'm somewhat familiar with Allen's personal turmoil over the last several months, I didn't know his popularity took that much of a hit.  A few others trickled in as the show time approached, but the theater was largely empty.  Having the seat of my choice, I had an unexpectedly intimate screening of Magic in the Moonlight.

The great magician Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth), who also goes by the name of Stanley, is a master illusionist who has dazzled audiences all over Europe for years.  He's cut women in half.  He's made elephants disappear.  He's even transported himself across stages.  This highly rational genius who believes in nothing beyond our physical world is also known for debunking self-proclaimed spiritualists as fraudsters.  After his most recent show in Berlin, Stanley is visited by his friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney).  A gifted magician as well, Howard also specializes in debunking spiritualists.  He's currently trying to prove that a young woman named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) is a fraudster.  To do so, he needs Stanley's help.

Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are currently staying with a rich family grieving the loss of their patriarch.  Widow Grace (Jacki Weaver) regularly has séances with Sophie to contact her husband's spirit and make sure that all is well with him.  Brice (Hamish Linklater), the sole heir to his father's wealth, is also enamored with Sophie and her mental impressions/vibrations.  He serenades Sophie daily and wishes to marry her.  All of this could come to a screeching halt with Stanley's arrival.  Upon getting there, the glum, witty magician quickly begins alienating each and every person on the property, except Sophie.  Though he's focused on proving that her abilities are not real, the bubbly young woman mystifies him in a way he never expects.  Meanwhile, Stanley takes some time to visit his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), the woman who raised him.

As I mentioned earlier, I am somewhat familiar with the scandals plaguing Woody Allen over the last several months.  I don't profess to be an expert in his personal life.  Putting what I know aside and judging the film dispassionately, however, I have to say that Magic in the Moonlight could use a little more magic.  The movie has all the stylistic flourishes of a Woody Allen film — a score full of classic selections from the first half of the 20th century, gorgeous visuals marked by the beautiful landscapes and flora of the south of France, and just a little deadpan humor.  Still, it lacks a certain charm that could elevate it amongst Allen's long filmography of great American movies.  As it stands, Magic in the Moonlight doesn't measure up to other recent films from Allen like Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Having directed, written, or acted in a film almost every year for the last 45 years, Woody Allen is known for consistently putting out a product.  Sometimes, he's been criticized for manufacturing films.  In the case of Magic in the Moonlight, that's definitely a fair point.  The film is clearly underdeveloped.  Lacking a rich, engaging story that whisks us back to 1928 or star performances that could potentially elevate the stature of this simple movie, Magic in the Moonlight was undoubtedly made in a hurry.  It's stylistically and visually a beautiful film sprinkled with occasional humor and solid performances from a caustic Colin Firth and an effervescent Emma Stone.  At the end of it all, however, Allen and his cast just never make a meaningful connection with their audience.

Magic in the Moonlight is a decent romantic comedy.  It's not particularly bad.  That being said, it's not particularly good either.  Hobbled by a lack of genuine charm, the film just doesn't find the right footing.  All that being said, the moviegoers who have shied away from Woody Allen's flicks going forward haven't missed much.  Magic in the Moonlight gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of Viognier with this one.