After nearly fifty years of filmmaking, it's safe to say that we pretty much know Woody Allen's attitude towards all things supernatural. Religion, God, afterlife, are all concepts that have borne the brunt of Allen's obtuse scorn over the decades. And yet, as the writer-director pushes 80, it seems he has begun to deconstruct if not incrementally rollback his notoriously rational outlook.
Allen's latest film, Magic in the Moonlight, stars Colin Firth doing what Colin Firth does best: playing Mr. Darcy. Firth plays Stanley Crawford, a magician in 1920s Europe, whose sneering arrogance is eclipsed only by his vicious contempt for all things that can't be unmitigatedly proven by the cold calculations of science. When word reaches him of a rich American family who has fallen under the spell of a psychic, he quickly travels to the south of France -- where they're summering at their waterfront chateau -- to expose the fraud.
Hoping to inflict as much humiliation as possible, Crawford begins jabbing Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) with sarcastic barbs immediately. But regardless of his iterations of the impossibility of anything existing outside of empirical proof, Baker's effortless charm and uncanny clairvoyance slowly begins to win over the master skeptic.
This is not one of Allen's classics, but the Côte d'Azur setting and the classical score, including Stravinsky and Beethoven, make for a lovely diversion on a Sunday evening. Allen became a legend filming in the confines of Manhattan, but his latest European period has proven he is equally adept at filming the radiance and splendour of the Mediterranean. I also appreciated the supporting characters of Caroline (Erica Leerhsen) and George (Jeremy Shamos), who seemed to be taken directly out of Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night. This and other Lost Generation literary allusions worked much better than the crudely amateurish caricatures of Allen's recent megahit, Midnight in Paris, which in many ways felt like Woody Allen had taken over the Back to the Future franchise.
Crawford/Darcy/Firth's intense rationality sets him up for a comeuppance, even as he continues to spew on about the cold bleakness of life, and death. Much like his main character, it seems like the great director is softening in his dotage. Yes, everything Crawford says is true, he's not debating that, but rather he's advocating for a kind of selective amnesia. Maybe in the face of unimaginable dark nothingness, the key to survival and indeed happiness is to try placing existentialism on the back burner for a while and permit some magic into our lives. Who knows, if we're lucky perhaps we'll get to experience the greatest magic of all: love.