Lowdown: A magician on a mission to expose a medium for a fake falls for her instead.
Pretend, for a moment, that you are a very successful movie director/actor with an illustrious career behind you and a collection of Oscars at your very not IKEA branded cabinet. You’re in your eighties now, with mortality just around the corner. Thoughts come into your head, perhaps some regrets along the lines of “I should have done this instead of that”. What can you do about it? Well, you create a movie about it. That’s exactly what Woody Allen did in yet another movie of his that’s all about himself.
Magic in the Moonlight is the result. Set in the early 20th century, it stars Colin Firth as Stanley, a pretend to be Chinese magician whose shows knock the crowds down in awe across the whole world. In real life he’s nothing but Chinese and he’s also not that nice a person. His main interest is in exposing the magicians claiming to use the supernatural for the fakes they are. This very James Randi like guy is not satisfied with exposing fakes alone; he seems to be on a mission to point the wrongs in every person he sees. Clearly, our Stanley is the incarnation of the persona that Richard Dawkins is often falsely accused of being: the strident atheist who never takes a rest from pointing out how the whole rest of the world is wrong.
Until, that is, he meets Sophie, a young American girl (Emma Stone) whom he is called to disprove for the not-so-real medium she claims to be before she sucks a rich family dry. Only that Stanley seems unable to prove her wrong; instead, he falls for her. Can it be so? Is the supernatural, and by proxy religion and god, really real?
We cannot ignore the fact that the portrayal of the supernatural in a movie as real has absolutely nothing to do with whether the supernatural is real in real life. The whole movie is based on that point just as it is based on Allen trying to say, through Stanley’s character, that his relentless attacks on religion and the supernatural from his younger days were wrong and that we should all accept that we can see magic in the moonlight. The result is a movie that just seems too contrived to fit Allen’s message and to act as a good movie, too; too much of an Oscar Wilde like play that has gone to the dogs.
To seal the deal, we have a romance between a now 54 year old (Firth) and a now 26 years old (Stone). That’s Allen in a nutshell.
Stanley and Sophie stumble upon an old, now unused, observatory in France. As unused as it is, the observatory is still incredibly clean and its motors are all up and running, power and all. Contrived as that setting is, when the roof opens our heroes look at the bit of sky that’s exposed (not through the telescope) and admire it for the lovely piece of sky that it is. Which, despite the contrived nature, is quite nice a touch.
Overall: Allen has the talent to procure good movies, no doubt about that. It’s a pity he’s wasting his talents on pointless apologetic gestures instead of making the most of what he can really to the end. 2 out of 5 oh-so-contrived crabs.