In an odd sort of way Magic in the Moonlight is Woody Allen’s Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957). His latest is by no means his magnum opus, nor is it in the same league as Bergman’s film yet both are an atheist’s cry in absurdity- a temporary dallying with comforting delusion. Allen’s charming French Riviera soiree through illusion and rationality tries to be profound, lacing itself with Nietzsche quotes and philosophical inquiry yet it feels stale, or at least to the many critics who have panned it.
Set in Côte d’Azur and stepped in idyllic beauty Magic in the Moonlight stars Colin Firth as Stanley, or the great Wei Ling Soo, master magician and renowned debunker of psychics. An old friend enlists his help to expose Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a scamming psychic leaching off the wealth and mortal fears of death and certainty of rich American family the Catledges. However, when he finds the lovely Sophie to have ‘rather agreeable features’ his rationality is somewhat clouded by the rosy tint of his glasses.
Using the French countryside as its backdrop, Magic in the Moonlight is visually romantic with a bourgeoisie sort of perfection. The film is meticulously beautiful; every detail has been polished, every flower is in full bloom. Allen again takes us back to a time better than our own- the 1920’s. This time the characters are not mingling with literary types (Midnight in Paris, 2011) but shallow socialites. Allen emphasizes the jazz age feel of the film by returning to his characteristic jazz soundtracks and playing up the zeitgeist of the twenties with elaborate flapper costumes, setting and certain early Hollywood-esque shots such as ones in the car. Though the nostalgia doesn’t end with our visit to the twenties; certain scenes remind us of others in Allen’s oeuvre: when Firth and Stone escape from a storm into and observatory it is comparable to when Allen and Keaton escape thunder by sheltering in a planetarium.
When taken solely as a romantic comedy this is a simple and enjoyable film but any expectations for anything more are sadly not met. This can be largely blamed on the script, which is not as charming or intellectually stimulating as the characters themselves proclaim to be. At one hilarious point in the film Stanley’s friend lists the stuffy Englishman’s personality traits; ‘neurotic, pessimistic’ and so on. This is both hilarious because it is an in joke to the Woody Allen films where Woody Allen plays Woody Allen and because it is a wry reminder of the wit of those films in a film where Allen’s signature humour is scarce. Stanley doesn’t come across as neurotic, or have any of those loveable flaws his friend lists. Although the characters are badly written- written without chemistry or funny dialogue, Magic in the Moonlight isn’t as lacklustre as many critics are taking it for. Decorated generously with the beauty of Emma Stone, brilliant production designs and sublime sets this film is a wallflower with a little more. This film shouldn’t be overlooked because of its mixed reception. Although the characters aren’t so interesting the story itself is.