Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen’s latest flick, reprises some of his perennial themes. In the 1920s a famous English magician, Stanley (Colin Firth), whose stage name is Wei Ling Soo, is invited to the south of France to visit with a wealthy family in order to debunk an American medium, Sophie (Emma Stone). The family is convinced she is authentic. One of them, Brice (Hamish Linklater), is in love with her and has proposed marriage. The family is ready to finance for her an institute for the study of the occult.
Stanley is invited by a boyhood friend and fellow magician, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney). Burkan was asked by a friend of the family to expose Sophie as a charlatan but, while he does not profess belief in her, says he cannot figure out how she accomplishes what she does.. Stanley is noted for debunking false mystics and is, himself, a complete materialist. His world view makes him glum and, when combined with his extreme arrogance, turns him into a comical caricature. He is not a complete misanthrope, though, as he is engaged to the smart, attractive Olivia (Catherine McCormack) and loves the aunt that raised him. While Stanley professes materialism and sees any belief in the spiritual realm to be delusional, merely providing false hope for the gullible and unintelligent, Sophie takes her stand firmly on the other side. Their tussle, then, is not only over the authenticity of Sophie’s powers but their world views. A middle view is advocated by Stanley’s beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) who thinks that God may possibly exist. The tone and plot are comical, though, so it would be mistake to take all the philosophical disputation seriously. This part of the film is handled quite cleverly by Mr. Allen.
The secondary plot is a love story and, while it adds somewhat to the humor, it is much less successful.. Will Stanley and Sophie fall in love? Will Stanley remain faithful to his fiancee? Will Sophie marry the rich, devoted Brice? In this plot line, Mr. Allen expresses his view that romantic love is irrational but joy-giving. It is hard to be drawn into it, though, for a number of reasons: because Stanley is so amazingly self-involved, because there seems to be no chemistry between Stanley and Sophie, because Brice is extremely callow, and because we hardly see Olivia at all. It was a mistake, I think, for the main plot to be resolved so much before the secondary plot is wound up as this leaves much of the latter part of the film entirely comprised of its weaker element.