I like this film precisely because Woody Allen is repeating himself. I have seen this film many times already. The Purple Rose of Cairo, Scoop, Midnight in Paris. There are a number of lovely reviews on IMDB so I’ll skip the remarks about scenery, acting, and storyline (just this much: I think all these aspects are wonderfully taken care of, from Khondji’s rendering of the côte d’Azur to Firth’s and Stone’s stage performance to a wonderfully light and surprising narrative).
To me, the repetitious aura around Woody’s films is refreshing and uplifting, and I think the re-telling of the same story opens up different registers of humor. The narrative becomes the background, and the actors and their dialogues and details of their interaction, short appearance, is drawn to the fore. We associate unoriginal stories with cheap popular culture: Hollywood romantic comedies, Harlequin romance, pop songs. I interpret that as a symptom of decay, although I can’t figure out what exactly is decaying.
I adore this lightness, this conscious choice for appearance that this movie radiates. It is as if Woody is trying to transform Stanley’s nihilistic-scientific world view into something more bearable but without buying into the superstition. Falling in love obviously functions as the missing term and I would call Stanley’s attitude perhaps one of gaia scienza. It is no coincidence that Allen quotes Nietzsche several times in this film. There were mentions of Nietzsche in Annie Hall and Hannah and her sisters, but these great films were not “Nietzschean”. Magic in the Moonlight is a study of the Nietzschean theme of our vital need for illusions and gay science. I have – from my ideosyncratic perspective of admiring both men – always seen them as kindred spirits, masters of the human psyche nodding at each other through the eons.
Magic in the Moonlight is a theatre piece on screen, as only Woody Allen can create them. For example, the suspended scene where he discusses his choice of women with Aunt Vanessa (splendidly played by Eileen Atkins) (who is playing patience during the entire conversation) is extremely funny.
I actively enjoyed it, so I can’t resist a suggestion. When Stanley and Sophie enter the observatory looking for shelter from the rain, the building is unmanned. What if there would be an old man with glasses and a hat, nodding them welcome and operating the observatory roof for them when so they can watch the sky with fearless lovers’ eyes. And this man would of course be played by Woody Allen. What an appearance would that have been! His only line would be “I’ll open the sky for you.” As he has done for so many of us during his career.