As with many Woody Allen movies, Magic in the Moonlight pits a cerebral man against a flighty younger woman and asks them to fall in love. This incarnation finds Stanley (Colin Firth), a yellowface performer who moonlights as a debunker of the supernatural, dispatched to the south of France to expose purported medium Sophie (Emma Stone) as a charlatan. Since this is late-era Allen, it may go without saying that the film is set in the 1920s, with landscapes as beautiful as its stars.
Stanley is a man of science who believes only in the corporeal world (which is far from the best of all possible, as Candide might say). Sophie, meanwhile, is a woman of faith who claims to be in touch with spirits. But something strange happens when Stanley arrives at the luxe country home where Sophie has been holding séances for a bereaved family: Her powers appear genuine. She levitates tables during séances and reveals things about Stanley’s dead relatives she couldn’t possibly know. After initial disappointment, though, this lifelong skeptic grows elated: There might be more to the world than what Stanley can see with his own eyes.
Much of this reads as wish fulfillment for Allen, who’s spent half a century detailing his fear of mortality. No one, after all, wants to believe in nothing. When Firth gazes upon the night sky from an observatory and describes the sight as “menacing,” it feels as though Allen is speaking to us directly. Though his recent headlines may make you squirm at the age difference between his stars—Firth is 28 years older than Stone—their verbal sparring is practically Shakespearean in its argumentative flirtation. The two have such natural charisma and chemistry that it’s impossible not be taken by their literary, lyrical repartee.
Magic in the Moonlight isn’t Midnight in Paris, but its winsome, ethereal vibe is certainly a step up from To Rome With Love.
The plot may be ludicrous, as is the extent to which Stanley and Sophie
discuss the irrationality of their pairing. But what else would you
expect from Allen, who so recently reminded the world that the heart
wants what it wants?
Critic’s Grade: B
SEE IT: Magic in the Moonlight is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.