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Woody Allen's new movie is airheaded: Magic in the Moonlight no masterpiece, but Emma Stone shines

Alex Bentley
Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Magic in the Moonlight
Colin Firth tries to unmask Emma Stone's possibly fraudulent mystic in Magic in the Moonlight. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Hamish Linklater and Emma Stone in Magic in the Moonlight
Hamish Linklater falls hard for Emma Stone in Magic in the Moonlight. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Magic in the Moonlight
Despite the age difference between Firth and Stone, it's easy to tell where Magic in the Moonlight is heading. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Anybody who’s seen, say, at least five Woody Allen movies — a fraction of what he’s made during the last 40 or so years — knows that almost all of his films feel similar. You have the same font for the opening credits, the jazzy opening music, biting but friendly quips unleashed by main characters and, often, relationships that only make sense in a Woody Allen movie.

All of the above is true about his latest, Magic in the Moonlight (playing at River Oaks Theatre). Taking place in the late 1920s, it follows Stanley (Colin Firth), an English magician who performs in the guise of a Chinese man named Wei Ling Soo. Renowned not only for his prestidigitation but also his ability to expose pretenders, Stanley is recruited by a friend to reveal the chicanery of Sophie (Emma Stone), a supposed psychic medium working her way through upper-class society in the south of France.

 After all this time, it’s clear that Allen still has a masterful ability to craft lines in just the right way and to cast actors who know how to deliver them.

Once Stanley arrives, though, Sophie seems to prove the authenticity of her skills time and again. This makes Stanley not only doubt his powers of deduction, but also his disdain for Sophie, who works her charms on him just as she does everybody else.

Unlike last year’s Allen movie, Blue Jasmine, there’s little at stake, and it’s almost certain that no one from this cast will be nominated for an Oscar. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to like about the film.

In fact, its lightness is its greatest asset; you can luxuriate in its simple story without having to worry about some big drama or twist coming your way.

After all this time, it’s clear that Allen still has a masterful ability to craft lines in just the right way and to cast actors who know how to deliver them. There are no big jokes in the film, just a constant stream of humorous chitchat that leaves an ever-present smile on your face. The clever but somewhat predictable plot ensures that it’s the words and performances that get highlighted.

Firth is the perfect choice for the lead role, because he can play the insufferable upper-crust Englishman as easily as he can someone who is bewildered and heartsick. Stone is also a good fit, as she adapts her outgoing personality into one that’s more low-key but still highly sociable.

For anyone who’s still able to watch a Woody Allen film free from all his real-world baggage, Magic in the Moonlight is an enjoyable trifle that will be more than enough to hold us over until he releases another movie next year.

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