The inherent problem in cranking out a movie (sometimes two!) every year, as Woody Allen has been doing for the last 34 years, is that some of them are inevitably going to be dogs. Does someone have a gun to the filmmaker’s head that forces him to proceed with half-baked, joyless comedies such as Magic in the Moonlight instead of tossing bad ideas out and starting fresh? This is, at best, a 20-minute TV episode extended to feature length, and the stretch marks show. Boy, do they show. That’s practically all you can see, really.
Last year’s Blue Jasmine, a study of a pampered woman under duress, won Cate Blanchett a well-deserved Oscar, and Allen won a Best Original Screenplay award in 2011 for Midnight in Paris. But in between those, we got To Rome with Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Whatever Works and Cassandra’s Dream, all pictures that had interesting elements in them but were in clear need of a rewrite or two.
Stanley is arrogant and successful and pompous — he’s a bit of a jerk — so when his friend (Simon McBurney) tells him of a young woman, Sophie (Emma Stone), causing a furor in Paris with her psychic powers and ability to communicate with the dead, Stanley immediately flies there to debunk the young upstart. He knows there’s no such thing as real magic, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to let some American scam artist steal the spotlight from him.
But when he sees Sophie at work, Stanley can’t explain how she knows personal facts and details about people she’s never met. She really does seem to be able to read minds. And most of all, she’s beautiful: Instead of trying to bring her down, Stanley begins to fall for her.