Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the Moonlight (5/30/15) HBO (2014 ***) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden and Simon McBurney. Set in Southern France in the 1930s, a famous stage magician is asked by a friend to help de-bunk a young woman with apparent mystical powers. As a long-time fan of Woody Allen, I’ve watched nearly all of his films at one time or another. When this was released last year I was vaguely aware of it and knew I would make a point of watching it someday. As his films go, this was clearly one of his lesser ones, but still charming. Stanley, the main character, is painted initially as thoroughly unlikable, but of course that gave him plenty of room for his character to “arc” over the course of 80-some minutes. I enjoyed the first two-thirds or so of the film more that its remainder. There came a point when Woody Allen’s typewriter seemed to go on autopilot, and scenes became less artful and more perfunctory, almost as if Allen has lost interest in the script and wanted to move onto something else. In addition to “perfunctory,” another word that comes to mind is “pedantic:” The film’s theme (whether or not magic in the universe truly exists) wasn’t exactly hidden, and toward the end of the film two characters get into a philosophical debate on the topic that seemed absolutely interminable.

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