Magic in the Moonlight: Less than Illuminating

I try not to judge a movie by how far along it is on
Netflix’s ‘New Releases’ section. Turning from blockbuster hits to unknown indies, I have often found hidden gems deep past the popular
titles. Unfortunately, these films are usually stuck between a couple of
time-wasting, uninspiring disasters. Magic
in the Moonlight
is one of those disasters. 

With over 50 films and four Oscars under his belt, Woody
Allen has had his fair share of brilliant writing and directing. His latest
film, released in 2014, looked just as promising. Set in the South of France, the scenery appeared to be golden-lit
and charming. Add in Colin Firth and his co-star Emma
Stone as unlikely lovers, and the film appeared to be set for success. 

So what went so wrong? The answer is simple: Allen’s kooky,
verging on bizarre storyline and poorly written script. Even the actors appear
embarrassed to be delivering their awkward and obvious lines. The 54-year-old Firth, best known
for his role in The King’s Speech, nearly
grimaced as he professed his love to Stone, who, at 26, is young
enough to be his daughter (remind you at all of Allen’s life?). Stone responded in a similarly uninterested fashion, with her poorest acting performance yet.

The film opens with main character
Stanley Crawford (Firth) in his stage persona of a Chinese magician, Wei
Ling Soo. Performing in Berlin in 1928 with strong racist undertones, Wei Ling puts on tricks like cutting a lady in half and making an elephant disappear. 

In Allen’s classic style, the costumes and setting save the
unclear plot in the beginning. A magician with film, Allen allows us to forget the
bizarre Wei Ling as we focus on the elephant’s beautiful garb and the stunning attire of the magician and his
assistant. The illusion, though, is soon shattered as we move into the drama of the story.

After his nightly show, Crawford is approached by his old friend and fellow magician, Howard Burkan, with a strange but intriguing proposition. He explains to Crawford that he has just returned from a visit with a wealthy family in France who are under the impression that they have discovered the world’s first real psychic.

As well as swindling the family out of money, the young American psychic has enticed the family’s son into proposing to her. Burkan, believing that the family is in danger, has come seeking Crawford’s keen eye for illusion. He asks Crawford to come to stay with the family and expose the girl.

Crawford accepts and leaves his humdrum fiancée (spoiler
alert: When people begin movies with boring fiancées, they rarely marry them)
and heads to southern France. Here is the anticipated golden light, the winding
roads along the coast and the elegant parties. Allen’s true talent comes through
as we follow Crawford from one beautiful setting to the next. Every plate of food
looks delicious, every outfit well thought-out. 

But it is not enough to save Magic in the Moonlight

While amused at first, I was quickly underwhelmed by the film’s continuous narrative of psychic Sophie Baker (Stone) continually uncovering details about Crawford. She knows
things that she couldn’t possibly know, and she can levitate a candle; soon, even the dubious Crawford is beginning to believe. 

Both of the one-dimensional characters grow increasingly
interested in each other as the movie continues. They are solid opposites of
each other: Baker the whimsical believer, Crawford the cold atheist. Each
character appears a caricature of themselves; even the side characters
seem over the top in maddeningly obvious ways. 

My attention was fading, but I waited for the
hitch. And I had a long time to wait: After the initial drama (Baker’s shocking
ability to read people), the plot failed to develop or build. The only real
fascination lay in the scenery as Baker and Crawford were placed in one
romantic spot after the other, only to have the same dull conversation.

I will not spoil whether Baker does have real powers or whether Crawford can eventually uncover the truth, but I will say that it was not
enough to make up for the hour in between. Perhaps the film’s plot would have succeeded had it made more of an effort to comment on religion or push our minds to consider new ideas and perspectives. However, it failed to scratch even slightly below
the surface. 

To be completely honest, I am not sure what happened in the
last 10 minutes of the film, because I turned it off. I couldn’t bare the lack
of chemistry (rightly so, with their stark age difference) between Stone and
Firth. And I couldn’t ignore the dry plot and humorless script.

Woody Allen has had his ups and downs, and Magic in the Moonlight may have been
rock bottom. If two great actors and a trip to the French countryside can’t save you,
nothing can. So please believe me, and don’t watch!

Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is an English Major from Hawaii. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old.

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