Magic in the Moonlight - Woody Allen's theology - Art House Rating: 2.75 stars

Woody Allen films have a polarising effect on people. Love or hate them, Allen always delivers an interesting interpretation of life. 

Walking into the cinema...
A romantic comedy with the sceptical backdrop of the spiritual realm. With Woody Allen at the 
helm, this film has the potential to be fascinating. 

Art House* Rating: 2.75 stars
Family rating: This film is for mature audiences only. It has mature themes and language that should be taken into consideration before viewing. 

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." - King Solomon

     When it comes to sceptics about the spiritual realm, no one in cinematic history compares to Stanley Crawford (). A professional magician in the 1920's, Crawford is arrogant and is a prima donna. In his spare time, he enjoys debunking mystics, spiritualists and anyone who tries to imply that there is an afterlife. Firth plays the role with 
viciousness and arrogance, a typical caricature of the sceptic. He is presented with a challenge from a friend and fellow magician, Howard Barken (), to come and expose a beautiful, spiritualist who is apparently swindling a rich American family in the south of France.  (The Help, The Amazing Spiderman) plays the gifted mystic, Sophie. She has worked to gain the confidence of the family and eventually manages to convince Stanley that her abilities are legitimate. As the story develops through multiple attempts to expose Sophie as a fraud, a unique love triangle develops between the young spiritualist, Stanley and Brice (), the heir apparent to the Pittsburgh coal fortune. Confusion begins to add spice to this little triangle, Stanley is fascinated by Sophie's abilities and finds with a new revelation of the afterlife, he begins to allow himself to leave behind his scepticism and begins to love life. Whereas Brice is infatuated with Sophie and desires to spoil her for the rest of her days. Even with gifts and a rich lifestyle thrown at her, Sophie finds she is more taken with Stanley, even though he does not have any romantic feelings for her. The tour de force of the film, as Aunt Vanessa. Atkins brings a lighter and enjoyable side to this film. She is the perfect foil to Firth's character. Their relationship is the most endearing part of the film. She brings out the lighter moments in the story and is the catalyst to the conclusion. In true Woody Allen fashion, this twisted tale spins out of control and their lives, feelings, and motives come together to a light hearted, if not predictable ending. 
     Due to his cinematic reputation, Allen manages to get some of the greatest talents in the business to come and work with him. Firth and Stone are joined by an excellent supporting cast of Eileen Atkins,  and Besides the Atkins/Firth relationship, the acting credentials are there, but not supported by good writing. The dialogue and relationships lacked congruency or depth. In most of the recent Allen films, the male lead is written as if Woody is in the lead role, but played by someone else. If you were to close your eyes, you could hear Allen's style coming from most his male leads. The dialogue tends to be rambling and awkward, which works for Allen and worked wonderfully for Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, but does not work well for Firth. The saving grace of the film was the beauty of Southern France. This backdrop gave the film the needed lift from some of the challenging dialogue. The arguments for scepticism toward the spiritual realm are unoriginal, even though Allen is consistent in striving to debunk all things spiritual. These debates are weak and seem to attempt to equate all things spiritual and religious together, but inevitably leaves the discussion muddled. 
      The key component that Allen seems to have forgotten is that Magic in the Moonlight was supposed to be a romantic comedy. With Firth's caustic manner and the noticeable age difference between him and Stone, the chemistry never quite works on the screen. The age disparity may be normal for most Allen films or even acceptable in the 20s, but the magic never reveals itself. In the end, Allen seems to have lost sight of the direction of the film. Is it a statement on God and the afterlife? Is it meant to be a romantic comedy? In either of the categories, it does not seem to work, except to showcase the beauty of southern France. 
     Throughout Woody Allen's career, there has been a fascination with death, psychological science and spiritualism. Woven throughout his films, there has been an underlying neurosis and a self-deprecation that works for him. Also, throughout his cinematic career, he has shown an amazing ability for script writing, comedic timing and visually stunning films. With Magic in the Moonlight, the neurosis remains, but he fails in two of the other three areas. In trying to show that all religions, spiritualism and God are not true, he shows his lack of understanding of humanity. His confusion comes out in this film, because he seems to attempt to be profound, but comes off as foolish. In making light of people who believe in something more than the material world, his comedic abilities come off as nasty and lacks any humorous value. With the lack of writing depth and humour, the aesthetic appeal of the countryside, costumes and the cast cannot salvage this film. Magic in the Moonlight lacks magic and light. It might open the door to some good conversations about the here after, but it fails to be quality film making.     

Leaving the cinema...

Sophie says at one point in the film, "You find that menacing, I say it looks pretty romantic."

The film was an above average date night film, but with this film did not offer anything new for the realm of romantic comedies. I enjoyed talking about the deeper things of life with my wife after the film, but that part of the evening was more enjoyable than the movie. The romance came from the company, but not from the film. 

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 
1. Can we or should we speak with the dead? (1 Samuel 28:1-251 Chronicles 10:13-14)
2. Is there a God? (Exodus 34:5-7, Matthew 22:32)
3. What happens if you gain the whole 'world?' (Matthew 16:25-27)

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews

*A film intended to be a serious artistic work, often experimental and not designed for mass appeal. These reviews will be focused on the artistic side of the the cinematic experience. The majority of these films will be for mature audiences.