Magic in the Moonlight

Aug 17, 2014

"There's magic in the web of it." Shakespeare

Magic in the Moonlight

Grade: A-

Director: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)

Screenplay: Allen

Cast: Colin Firth (Magic in Moonlight), Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 97 min.

by John DeSando

A woman may very well form a friendship with a man, but for this to endure, it must be assisted by a little physical antipathy.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I try to avoid foolish romantic comedies even though I recently had to see And So It Goes, a piece of drivel with aging Michael Douglas. I was fortunate to enjoy last year’s Her, with Scarlett as a sexy computer program. Yes, that’s the extent of my experience with this well-worn genre that keeps trying but doesn’t satisfy skeptical romantic pessimists like me.

Then there’s magic, Magic in Moonlight, Woody Allen’s current romance, which will be compared with his Oscar-winning Midnight in Paris (2011). The comparison is favorable both for the Woodmeister as still-working aging auteur and for those like me who love period pieces (1928  in Magic) with Allen’s spot-on choice of music (an Allen strong point), Porter and Stravinsky, and a light dose of philosophy (Nietzsche throughout).

Compared with any other romances out there, even ones I haven’t seen, Woody’s nostalgic ambience coupled with his self-deprecating pessimism is unique and lyrical, a testimony to those romantics who dream of golden ages and triumphant humanity. Even though it’s another older man making it with a younger woman, no one should criticize Woody for innocently imitating his own life

Stanley (Colin Firth) is an established illusionist engaged by a friend to debunk a young American medium in the south of France, Sophie (Emma Stone), who appears to be fleecing an aristocratic family with her visions (“A pretty face never hurt a swindler”). The antagonism that ensues (see introductory quote) between Stanley and Sophie turns to love, of course, and turns the latter third of the film into some predictable romancing, not unlike the screwball comedies of the last century that entertain with repartee (it’s not rapid like His Girl Friday, but it will do) until they, alas, lose their sparring vigor in the transformations of love.

But vigorous is Woody’s delight in the eternal debate between optimists (Sophie), whose connection with the spirit world radiates a belief in God and the afterlife, and pessimists, in this case Stanley espousing Ibsen’s “claim of the ideal” in The Wild Duck—tell it like it is, no romantic notions about the goodness of humanity or the hope of another life. We, however, mostly need our illusions about ourselves: “Rob the average man of his life-illusion, and you rob him of his happiness at the same stroke.” (Ibsen) 

Even the Woodman must bow to convention:  Magic in Moonlight  follows the usual route for the protagonists’ duel.  However, along the way, there's delight in the joy of the battle of the sexes as it is played out against intellectual jousting over the right way to view life. It’s Woody’s magic, no doubt about it.

Catch  the moon dust--see this enjoyable romcom:

“Because there is surely nothing in the world that can compare with happiness of forgiveness and of lifting up a guilty sinner in the arms of love.” Ibsen, The Wild Duck

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at