While Woody Allen has jumped out with efforts like Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine that shows that the 79-year-old filmmaker still has enough in the tank to say that he is one of the better artists working today, but sometimes he just puts out a nice story, much like parts of From Rome With Love and his latest film, Magic in the Moonlight.
Nothing is revolutionary in Allen’s latest feature, but it still carries the trademark of any of his other films with a quippy script and a fascination with the afterlife and faith. Colin Firth enters the lead role as a famous magician who is brought in by his friend and colleague Howard (Simon McBurney) who has just returned from a stay in the South of France where a rich family is being conned by a fortune teller named Sophie (Emma Stone), but he can’t figure out how she is doing it.
Howard knows that Stanley (Firth) is the best, and never lets anything by him, so he invites him to join the family at their summer home and figure out how Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are duping this family. He also seeks the council of the one person he trusts, his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Akins), in his quest to solve the mystery.
Stone has a remarkable skill to fit in the Allen movie, and with her also starring in his next film, it seems like the director may have found a new muse. She is able to work with the quick moving dialogue and her personality makes the character, Sophie, charming enough that while she is the target, she is also one that wins your heart. Firth does his best with the Allen, neurotic role, but doesn’t have the true skill that Allen himself, or more recently Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, have to find humanity in the role.
While the love story suffers from the large age gap, what really hurts it is the lack of logic used when it comes to piecing together the action and drama. For example, in one scene, Aunt Vanessa is in a car crash and Stanley rushes to her side. While he waits to hear her status, he decides to go against his wishes and pray for her fast healing.
Mid-prayer he has a sort of epiphany and realizes that faith isn’t for him and that whatever would happen is set and no matter of prayer or hope will help out. Immediately after, she is cleared due to science and the whole scene is nil. Allen lacks the time to dive into these characters and uses them more as caricatures for the plot rather than actual humans.
While this is frustrating, it still offers laughs as the Allen script always contains a fair amount of humor and this one is able to capture some humorous moments within the absurdity of the plot and the faith that the family has in this mystic.
Magic in the Moonlight is not Allen’s best work, or even within his most recent stuff, but it has its moments even though the characters are flat and lifeless.