Stanley: There is no real thing; they’re all phoney – from the seance table to the vatican and beyond.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT may be the most misleading title of Woody Allen’s career. There is maybe one shot of the moon in the entire film and I dare you to find a single trace of magic in this supposedly romantic comedy. I say supposedly because the comedy in this film is pretty scarce but more importantly, the film is far too nihilistic to take any of its more romantic elements seriously. If you know me at all, you know I am a great admirer of Allen’s work but his latest is yet another misstep in his prolific career and a horrible waste of stars, Colin Firth’s and Emma Stone’s talent.
Firth assumes the role clearly meant for Allen to play himself, would that he were young enough to play it. His name is Stanley and he makes his living, and a very good one at that, masquerading as a Chinese magician. A fellow magician (Simon McBurney) informs him of a psychic fortune teller (Emma Stone) he has come across recently and insists that Stanley abandon his life and come out to meet her so that Stanley can do what he has thus far not been able to, debunk and discredit her as the fraud she must be. Naturally, Stanley does just this because, as he points out a number of times, he is an expert at unmasking frauds of this nature. In fact, he seems to do so with a great zeal, as if he derives a perverse pleasure from proving these people as fakes and subsequently reaffirming that there is no such thing as an afterlife. No, Stanley likes his life exactly where it is, being lived amongst the living. To think about any other possibilities flusters him a great deal so its best to let Stanley believe what he needs to believe.
When Allen himself questions the existence of God and whether or not life has any meaning on screen, it’s kinda cute. His neurosis go a long way to allow audiences to forgive his misgivings. When Firth does so though, even though the words and thoughts stem directly from Allen, it comes across as stuffy and stubborn and often unnecessarily aggressive. It is extremely off-putting to me but it is apparently quite seductive for the psychic in question. Firth and Stone end up spending a good deal of their time together as he tries to discredit her but as this proves to be increasingly more difficult to achieve, he starts to feel something altogether unfamiliar; he starts to feel alive. It is as though his inability to prove her intuition wrong has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for him. Perhaps there is a God; perhaps there is life after death. In reality, he is just falling in love with her but he is too daft and too stuffy to notice that, which isn’t surprising given how little actual chemistry there is between Firth and Stone.
Nights where there is actual magic in the moonlit air happen naturally and probably more often than most of us might think. Sometimes all you have to do is look up to the night sky and believe there is magic there in order to see it manifest itself. With MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, Allen tries far too hard to convince us that magic doesn’t exist that by the time we’re supposed to come around to believing again, he has to force his hand to make us think the magic is back. By this time though, the magic is just plain gone.