Let’s get this out of the way. Woody Allen did two very good things with Magic in the Moonlight.
1. He brought back the incredible cinematographer Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, The Immigrant, Delicatessen).
2. He can cast the shit out of a movie.
Khondji makes this movie visually interesting, even if Woody Allen couldn’t make it any other kind of interesting. And Colin Firth and Emma Stone have a natural banter that creates a sense of intimacy that sure didn’t come from the script. This intimacy, against Khondji’s gorgeous framing, create the illusion of something engaging. But Allen ruins things by adding absolutely nothing else. He insists on plopping at our feet a formulaic pile of mediocrity that somehow has no formula. It’s just a jumble of potential plot points that all sit in a heap, rather than going through the effort of unfolding in a logical, engaging manner.
It should be said, I was fully expecting to have to go into a lengthy discussion regarding Woody Allen as a person when writing about this movie. To address the question of whether we can, truly, separate a
monster man from his art and feel decent about ourselves while enjoying his movies. But you know what? Woody Allen saved me from having to go into that. (Thanks, Woody!) Because this is not worth that discussion. This is a lazy, doughy afterthought of a movie. If you were thinking about seeing it, for whatever reason, there are dozens, probably hundreds of better alternatives. In fact, here are just a few:
A List of Better Ways To Spend Your Time Than Watching Magic In the Moonlight
1. Khondji really does paint a beautiful picture of France in the 1920s. But you know where else he did that? In Midnight in Paris. And that movie was actually funny. And charming. And things happened that an audience could care about. So if you’re considering seeing Magic in the Moonlight for the scenery, don’t. Just go watch Midnight in Paris.
2. Colin Firth plays Stanley, a handsome yet bristly curmudgeon (a stretch for him, no?), who is also a world-famous magician. Emma Stone is Sophie, a young woman with (either supposed or actual) clairvoyant powers who can communicate with the dead. If you saw this in the trailer and had an itch to see a movie with some magic in it, this is not for you. Both characters’ abilities are deliberately underwhelming. Instead, go watch The Illusionist. No, not that one… the other one. Oh hell, either one. Or watch The Craft. Or The Sixth Sense or I don’t know, anything else.
3. The main plot of the movie centers on Stanley trying to reveal Sophie as a fraud. Unfortunately, no one actually cares if she’s a fraud or not. Maybe Stanley does a little, but mostly he just wants to make snarky comments and be right about stuff. (Don’t we all?) Sophie doesn’t seem concerned with defending herself. We, the audience, sure as hell aren’t on the edge of their seats, trying to crack this mystery. No, if you want a good caper, a mysterious con that folds in on itself and makes you work to figure it out, watch The Brothers Bloom. If you’ve already seen it, see it again. That’s still, I promise you, is an infinitely better use of your time.
4. If you want to see a love story, go watch ANY OTHER MOVIE EVER MADE EVER. This one is not going to satisfy your desires. And I’m not just talking about the age difference here (although Woody Allen seems to be the only person in the world who doesn’t think it’s worth even mentioning). Firth and Stone, as charming as they are, have zero sexual chemistry. Get these two a buddy cop movie, or a vaudeville show, asap. But a rom-com? Neither actor actually seems committed to the development of that particular story line when it finally comes up. Basically any other movie ever made would have a more convincing love story. Hell, go see Snowpiercer. The undying love of Tilda Swinton and that train is stronger than the sexual pull of these two.
5. Finally, if you (like most of us, I’d assume) just wanted to watch Colin Firth and Emma Stone banter with each other, while being attractive and charismatic, you’d best look elsewhere. Granted, they do do that for a while, but it’s so bogged down in the meandering wasteland that is the movie as a whole, it’s not even enjoyable. Actually, when this movie ends up on Netflix, it would be the perfect thing to put on in the background while you’re cleaning or doing taxes or really anything that guarantees you won’t give it more than half your attention. If you allocate all your brain power to just this movie, you will likely go mad with frustration at the wasted potential of these two actors.
Not to leave you high and dry in want of some Firth and Stone action, here’s a superior alternative to watching Magic in the Moonlight. Instead of suffering through the whole movie, just look at these pictures:
Interspersed with bits of that delightful interview with the two of them.
Firth: There’s this great Groucho quote, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others!”
Stone: You never don’t have a quote for something. I know that’s a double negative.
Firth: No, that is a grammatically correct double negative! Am I just a quote-bore?
Stone: “I like you very much… just as you are.”
Firth: She can do it! Jesus.
Stone: That was so good, and you know it! Look at you… you’re all red now. Oh, Colin, you’re so wonderful. [Laughs] You’re my Oscar Wilde.
Firth: But am I a quote-bore?
Stone: You’re a quote whore is what you are. You have so many quotes that I can’t see straight. You’re like the quote village bicycle.
Firth: I’m going to stop now. Crack-Whores and Quote-Bores. That will be the name of my autobiography.
And here’s Eileen Atkins, because she was fantastic.
And even Hamish Linklater playing a ukulele. Because that is worth seeing, if not sitting through the entire movie to see.
And maybe just one more:
There you are. Hopefully your desires have been quenched and you’ll no longer feel the need (if you ever did) to suffer through this pointless movie.
Vivian Kane could watch Hamish Linklater play that ukelele all damn day, but it is just not worth the rest of this film.