Film review: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

This Woody Allen production that he wrote and directed has a plot that readers of this blog will be able to easily relate to. It is 1928 and Colin Firth plays a famous magician and illusionist who also has a second career as a debunker of all those who claim to be mediums who can talk to the dead or other supernatural powers. He is a total materialist and rationalist and has never failed to expose anyone who came under his investigative gaze. Think of James Randi but even more so.

A magician friend comes to him about a young woman (Emma Stone) who seems to have the most amazing ability to know all about the people she meets and also communicate with the dead. She has defeated his friend’s attempts to expose her and he asks for Firth’s help in finding out how she does it. The film deals with Firth’s attempt to do so. Incidentally, Eileen Atkins plays Firth’s aunt Vanessa. Fans of the British TV show Doc Martin will recognize her as Martin Ellingham’s psychologist aunt Ruth and she plays pretty much the same character here, a wry foil to her nephew’s dogmatic certainty and ability to antagonize people with his attitude.

While the film was enjoyable as a romantic comedy, I think that Firth’s character was a little too much of a stereotype of the arrogant atheist who is certain that he is right, conceited about his own intelligence, angered by psychic frauds who take advantage of the gullibility of people, and openly contemptuous of those who fall for such things. The exchanges between Firth and those who want to believe that they can talk to the dead and that there is a spiritual realm that science cannot explain seemed a little too simplistic, but that may be my fault as someone who is very familiar with the nuances of this debate.

The main problem with the film was that the denouement occurred about 75 minutes into it and the last 20 minutes were too long for the coda where the film wraps things up. But all in all it was a pleasant 95 minutes.

Here’s the trailer.


  1. resident_alien says

    @ dysonmiak idfccwnls:
    Don’t you know it’s all just a conspiracy? Mia Farrow had false memories implanted in her daughter’s brain in order to get back at the great Mr. Allen. Because that’s totally a likely scenario. Rape culture? What rape culture? Bitchez be crazy!
    Besides that, Woody Allen hasn’t had an original idea since synth pop was a thing.

  2. David Wilford says

    Thanks for the recommendation, it does sound like interesting and light entertainment. I’m not too surprised about dialing up the arrogance for dramatic purposes though. Since you enjoyed this movie, you might find this interesting too as it deals with similar subject matter in the same time period, and it’s a true story:

  3. Trebuchet says

    Off-topic, but since Doc Martin was mentioned: Mano, in addition to watching the regular series, have you also seen the “prequel” TV movies, and their predecessor “Saving Grace”? The Doc’s character is different, and less annoying, but it’s worth seeing where the series came from.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    Hmf. If it was possible to talk with the dead, Emma Stone would have a moral duty to reconstruct manuscripts lost during the burning of the library of Alexandria.
    And we also need an explanation to Linear A and the Indus culture scripts, pronto.
    Myself I would totally get in touch of those Soviet sailors of sunken missile submarines and ask them how much high-grade plutonium is left.
    (looking for lost gold treasures is peanuts, if you compare cost per weight)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *