Review: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Irrational positive feelings
Woody Allen movies are like comfort food to me. His reliable, consistent release schedule of a movie a year, usually released around the same time, is not only incredibly prolific, especially for a man in his 80's, but incredibly comforting.
What's also comforting is that, while the stories change, the presentation doesn't. And when the curtain raises and the commercials and the previews have been dealt with, that light jazz playing over that black screen and that same white font that has been a trademark in most of his fifty films feels like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer.
Another thing that's amazing about Allen is that despite the familiarity of the elements of his movies, his stories always keep you guessing. He's hardly ever repeated himself, he has a seemingly endless reservoir of ideas to dip into and while many of them have to do with romance and take place either in New York or some romantic European setting, the who, what and why's are always fresh and different.
Despite Allen's obvious talent which makes him, in my opinion, one of the world's greatest living filmmakers, he isn't always consistent. Let's look at his last few movies: Blue Jasmine was brilliant, To Rome With Love was terrible. Midnight In Paris was brilliant, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger was just ok. Whatever Works was pretty pointless, but Vicky Christina Barcelona was amazing. And so it goes. It's actually gotten to where you half expect that every other Woody Allen movie is going to be a bit of a letdown.
But let's not be too hard on the guy. You write and direct a movie a year with the efficiency of a bicycle wheel and see how many masterpieces you come out with.
It is for these reasons that I approached Magic in the Moonlight with optimistic trepidation. I was excited about a new Woody Allen film, but at the same time, Blue Jasmine was such a home run that I was half expecting this to be another To Rome With Love fiasco. And while it was no Blue Jasmine, it was also no To Rome With Love.
The film concerns Stanley. A magician who dresses up as an Oriental and performs illusions. He also happens to be a cynic with no beliefs and seemingly no joy in life, which he sees as ultimately pointless.
Enter Sophie, a self proclaimed clairvoyant, who Stanley takes upon himself to debunk. But as they spend more time together, things happen and so on and so forth and you know where this is going.
Moonlight has a lot of great features: a sharp, witty script; strong performances; beautiful locations. It also features Allen's typical musings on life, love and spirituality.
It's actually a very cynical movie in a lot of ways. It raises fairly deep questions regarding the existence of things beyond our realm; gods, ghosts and other unexplainable phenomenon. And ultimately discards them as puerile. It also, however, raises counter attacks to these ideas that ask: is it more cynical to believe that there's nothing beyond this life, or that there's nothing within it? If there really is no God, for example, than surely ignorance must be bliss. Surely the person that believes there is a loving God and an endless paradise awaiting them, and their loved ones, when they die is better off than the person for whom death is an empty black nothingness, a sleep without dreams from which they will never awaken?
Of course, in the way that only Allen can, he presents these deep, philosophical questions within the context of a wily romance against a backdrop of European beauty and grandeur. And while I felt the way the film ended was rather corny and bland, the taste Allen seems intent to leave you with is that of the blossoms of love. That love is the magic that is seldom understood but always apparent. That we don't know, can't know, what awaits us on the other side, so live every moment and embrace life as if it's all you have. Will ever have. And never stop believing in the magic in the moonlight.
Verdict: At once an easy romantic comedy in a beautiful setting. It also uses its surface details to disguise much deeper, more thought provoking ideas on the things we understand and the things we don't. Not one of Allen's best films, but far from one of his worst.