Woody Allen movies are like birthday presents. We receive them once a year, they come wrapped in familiar packaging (the opening credits in Windsor font, the swinging strains of old-timey jazz), and we're always happy to get them — even if we might occasionally want to return them for something different. Allen's latest offering is the whimsical romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight. And while it's breezy and funny and perfectly pleasant, you probably won't remember this particular gift by the time the next birthday rolls around. 
-For those keeping score, this is the 10th film released during Allen's 70s - he turns 79 in December - with one more film to go. And already we can say that Allen's 70s have turned out to be one of his most productive decades. Out of 10, he has made only three bombs ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," "Whatever Works," and "To Rome With Love"), and none of those were nearly as repellent as the worst films of the previous decade ("Anything Else," "Celebrity"). 
-“Magic in the Moonlight,” Woody Allen’s new film, stages a debate that will be familiar to anyone who has seen more than a couple of the previous 43. There are various ways to characterize the argument: between reason and superstition; between doubt and faith; between realism and magic. On one side is the belief in some kind of unseen, metaphysical force governing the universe; on the other is the certainty, shared by the director, that no such thing exists. Not incidentally — and not for the first time in Mr. Allen’s oeuvre — the opposed positions are advanced by a dyspeptic middle-aged intellectual and a much younger, relatively untutored woman. 
-Stanley (Colin Firth) tells us again and again that he believes in a rational universe. Allen has spent his life doing that, too, but always allowing for one exception: the reckless illogic of hearts. 
-Perhaps the movie's use of the past is more than cosmetic in this one regard: Watching Woody Allen revisit his old themes and obsessions already feels like a nostalgic experience. Actually setting the movie back in time deflects this and makes a virtue of a shortcoming. 
-For anyone who's been going to the movies at all regularly over the past 45 years, Woody Allen is practically family. His movies may draw fewer passionate responses than they did in the '70s and '80s, but we still feel compelled to reckon with him. Whenever Allen comes out with a new one—which he continues to do with alarming frequency—those of us who still care even moderately may ask, "How is he this time?" as if he were an infirm relation who's reached the stage where he's blessed with more bad days than good ones. 
-Last year in these pages Stephanie Zacharek compared going to see Allen's annual offering to checking in on an elderly relative you hope is having a good day. A trick I've picked up is always to try to get such a relative to tell a story you haven't heard before. Is it too much to ask the same of one of the world's most distinguished filmmakers? 
In the 1920s, magician Stanley Crawford enjoys widespread acclaim as Chinese conjurer Wei Ling Soo, his stage persona. As arrogant as he is talented, Stanley despises claims by phony spiritualists that they can perform real magic. At the behest of his friend, Stanley travels to the Côte d'Azur mansion of the Catledge family to expose a young medium named Sophie. However, Stanley is left surprised and shaken by evidence that Sophie's gifts may be real.
-Colin Firth, "‘That's not right. That didn't work. That's all.’ I was terrified of that [coming from Woody], actually. Because given that there would be no rehearsals either, I was scared that I would be in a void. If those stories were true I was going to be in a void. We both had tons of dialogue, huge amounts of material, which needed to be done apparently seamlessly and I was so concerned about that. I really did far more prep on text than I normally do. I like to do as much as backstory as I can, but I don't normally focus on memorizing. Partly because you get on a set and repeat things, I know them quite quickly. 
-Emma Stone, “But also what's so wild about Woody is you say his lines and -- from what I experienced -- he'll say, "That sounds like my dialogue. That sounds like something I wrote. I don't want it to sound like something I wrote. What I wrote is wrong. Just make something up.” And you're just like, "OK, I'll rewrite your beautiful writing." You really want to memorize the dialogue and once it sounds like dialogue he wants you to throw it out. He's so not precious about his words.” 
-Emma Stone, “I think the nerves are much higher from square one with everybody. There’s no rehearsal process, no table read, no real preparation. You’re just shot out of a cannon and you’re rolling. I’ve never been on a set where everyone was so nervous.” 
-Colin Firth, “Those [first day] scenes were reshot on the last day and are not in the final cut. It felt like a bit of a train wreck on the first day. I thought, if every day is like this, we’re not getting anywhere. But it warmed up and eventually it became a real pleasure. He became engaged as a director.” 
All my optimism was an illusion.
-Woody Allen: “On a couple of occasions I would be surfing through the movies and I'd see, you know, one of those films that she was in. And I pause there for just a moment or two because I could see it was not the kind of film that I would have much interest in, but I saw her. And I think, "My god she is so beautiful and in an interesting way." It isn't just that she's beautiful, but she's beautiful and interesting. And then I notice that she's a good actress.” 
-W.A., “She's funny and very believable and I spoke to Juliet Taylor, my casting director, about her, and Juliet, who knows everything about every actor/actress said, "Yeah. She's one of the good people around. She's really a good actress. She's not just beautiful." 
-W.A., “And so I met her and we used her for this movie and she was fabulous. And just coincidentally, she was very correct for the movie I'm shooting now with Joaquin Phoenix. So I cast her again. 
-If Midnight in Paris was a rose-coloured glimpse of the city’s Jazz Age scene through the eyes of a wistful dreamer, Magic in the Moonlight is a similarly sun-dappled, if less actually magical realist, romp. 
-“Magic in the Moonlight’s Goya Award-winning costume designer Sonia Grande, also worked with Allen on Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, To Rome With Love.
-After reading the script and “having a big conversation with Woody,” Grande says, she researches and presents briefs of ideas of the film, sketches, photographs and reference materials for each of the characters and big scenes. About who they are and what their clothes convey - always keeping Allen’s idiosyncrasies in mind (the director famously has a strong aversion to the colour blue). “I always think the costume has to have more information than necessary, because it’s also part of the narrative, and Woody likes a lot of simplicity,” she explains. 
-In addition to the requisite owlish tortoise specs, the split collars and high V waistcoats of the period, “Woody really wanted tweed,” she says. “It has a visual weight but also texture. And my research showed that in British suiting, the English wore it even in the summer! That surprised me. Even in Colonial India, they wore tweed and wool suits. You look at the photos of those pale suits and think they’re linen but no, they’re wool! Like their bathing costumes — also wool.” 
-“[The 1920’s] is a very rich period in photography,” Grande added, “and I looked at a lot of existing documentation of the French Riviera, photos, news films — of the people, the restaurants, and about Americans like Gerald and Sara Murphy.” 
-“One thing Woody really emphasized was the expressionist German painters for the Berlin sequences. That tone,” Grande explains, “and especially the work of Otto Dix. If you see the scene the shapes, they’re a little deformed and expressionist in style.” 
-From his turn of the century portraits through his experiments with Cubism, futurism and expressionism, the Dutch modernist painter, “had a way of painting women in hats with many flowers that I used a lot, particularly in the character of Sophie. Because of the way the hats transform the faces of the women he was painting. For the millinery of the film I looked to him.” 
-The “believers” are in lighter colours and pastels, with the “skeptics” in darker colours. 
-During an ill-fated outing along the coast, a storm breaks and the pair take refuge in the Nice Observatory on the summit of Mont Gros (buit in 1887, with a dome designed by Gustave Eiffel), Stanley’s sodden burgundy striped vintage tie isn’t colourfast, and the dye stains his white shirt and waistcoat; while unintentional, it lends costume verisimilitude to the scenes. 
-Colin Firth said that scripts usually come on a computer now. “Magic in the Moonlight’s” script did not. It was transported and handcuffed to someone. 
-Indiewire asked Woody Allen if his approach with actors has changed over the years? He responded with, “Yes. I noticed that over the years I've grown more and more confident in the instinct of the actors and I let the actors really, you know, change my words, drop speeches they don't like, change them, put them in their own words, add things. I give a great deal of freedom to the actors and they like that and it makes them feel relaxed and it makes them feel like they don't rigidly have to do written lines.” 
-Indiewire "[July 25th weekend gross] is definitely worth celebrating and shows that Allen's fanbase is still a specialty B.O. force to be reckoned with."
-Emma Stone named her first dog Alvy after the "Annie Hall" character. 
-Woody Allen did his first-ever podcast to promote “Magic in the Moonlight.” Here are a few of his revelations: 1. He's disappointed with all his films, 2. He hated school, 3. He has trouble casting Hollywood's biggest male actors because they’re usually booked, 4. His favorite “Blue Jasmine” scene is where Cate Blanchett “blew up and lost her cool,” 5. Why his films are greenlight: "They [investors] know the budget is going to be modest, they know it will be a responsible experience, and they know that because the film cost so little, it is almost a sure thing that they'll break even, and they know that there is very little chance they'll get rich. Only one in a few are very profitable. I don't think it is a good investment!” 6. He never prays, 7. He thinks the New York Knicks will win the NBA championship soon. 
CF: It wasn't written in. I noticed it. I'm not celebrating being on the unflattering end of an age difference. Yes, it didn't concern me, but I remember thinking this has so many similarities to "My Fair Lady" or "Pygmalion." I just allowed it -- I hope that would give it a pass, because it wasn't written in. 
First I didn't know who was playing the other role. It didn't occur to me that it was a younger person. I think for one thing, despite how anyone is going to feel about it, Stanley has had to live enough years to have got things wrong for a long time. And I think that she's younger, fresher, in a different period in her life. And it corresponds in so many ways to "Pygmalion." We're not in some carnal relationship. We are not subjected to that as a spectacle. 
ES: Well obviously I noticed it too. I think through the same lenses as Colin. It didn't feel super sexually driven. 
CF: It didn't loom large. 
ES: No. I mean they kiss at the end. I think there was a very -- I don't know. It wasn't something that I sat thinking about. We were cast. 
CF: You noticed it and then we moved on. In the end all that seemed apparent to me was that Emma was right for the role. I mean I quickly couldn't imagine anyone else playing it. 
I came to say that for some inexplicable reason that defies common sense and human understanding, that I have, of late, experienced some small... quite small but discernible, inner stirrings regarding your smile.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji returns again for “Magic in the Moonlight.” He previously worked with Woody on, “Anything Else,” Midnight in Paris,” “To Rome with Love,” and Woody’s upcoming 2015 film.
-”Magic in the Moonlight” is once again shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Other Woody films include “Anything Else” and “Manhattan.”
-“The gifted Darius Khondji (The Immigrant) shoots [Magic in the Moonlight] with such sumptuous decadence that it's fun just to wallow in the sight of the rich enjoying their privileges.” 
-David Denby for The New Yorker wrote, “The renowned cinematographer Darius Khondji, shooting on 35-mm. film, with old CinemaScope lenses, achieves a soft, lemon-tinted light. At one point, Firth and Stone drive along the Riviera in a red Alfa Romeo, and the audience may feel a twinge: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly zipped along the same coast sixty years ago, in “To Catch a Thief.” Beauty—old beauty, permanent beauty—has become an emotional necessity in Allen’s work.” 
-France does seem to bring out the best in Allen, who, working with much of his “Midnight” crew, has delivered one of his most beautifully made films. Lensing in widescreen 35mm, Allen and Khondji favor elegantly choreographed traveling master shots bathed in natural light (shooting took place up and down the Riviera, including Cap d’Antibes, Mouans-Sartoux, Juan-les-Pins and Nice) 
-Geoff Hudson for Le Bon Travel & Culture wrote, “The French countryside of gardens, flowered trellised paths, and sweeping ocean views shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji is ravishing.” 
-“Magic in the Moonlight” had its world premiere at New York's famed Paris Theater. Woody Allen said to Indiewire, “my films have played that theater a number of times and it's one of the last remaining, wonderful art movie houses in New York. It goes back for me many many years to when I was a high school student and I used to take my dates to the Paris theater to see wonderful French films of the 1950s.” 
-Woody Allen: “And when people always talk about the dumbing down of America, of course, I think that's nonsense that one generation would be dumber than another generation. It's so silly because the generation now is so much smarter than my generation in so many ways. But I am surprised that we used to go to all those art houses and my friends -- and we were not intellectuals -- I mean I was a guy who went to baseball games and basketball games and played ball in the street and didn't get through one year of college. We all were thrilled by Bergman and Fellini and Antonioni and Godard, and Truffaut of course, and Resnais. This generation doesn't seem to have much patience for the kinds of films that thrilled us when we were young adults in the city.” 
-W.A., “I don't know why that is. I don't know why there isn't a thriving cinema of high class films that you call art house films now. Or at the very minimum the young college kids today are not watching with great interest these films that I'm mentioning. All the Bergman films. All the Fellini films. The Truffaut films. I don't know why they are not watching them from the past or that there isn't an equivalent now for them to enjoy and buzz over.” 
When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.
-Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, “Taking shelter from a storm in an abandoned observatory, Sophie and Stanley regard the stars, seductive to her, menacing to him. That's Allen for you, searching for a refuge from the dull reality of life that can't be deconstructed as a trick. Is love the answer? Or is love too volatile to trust? Melancholy and doubt may seem like gloomy qualities to blend into an amorous romp. But that shot of gravity is what makes Magic in the Moonlight memorable and distinctively Woody Allen.” 
-Lawrence Hartmann of Chicago Now wrote, “The recurrent motifs and themes of so many of Allen's films are here again: the stylized dialogue; the fixation on the rich; art, and its place in society; male/female romance; and the quest for meaning in life. When handled in a middle-brow, pedestrian way, as in Allen's recent films "Blue Jasmine" or "Midnight in Paris," these ideas seem flat and tiresome on screen. But when the New York writer/director lets his creativity loose, as in "To Rome with Love," "You Will Meet a Tall, Dark, Stranger," or here, in "Magic in the Moonlight," there's life in the stories, a bit of insight, perhaps, and humor.” 
-Hartmann continues, “There were times when I was watching "Magic in the Moonlight" when I thought to myself, Oh, come on. This dialogue is so stilted. As the actors were saying the words, I could almost see Allen in the background typing away on his typewriter. But then ... there's a scene like the one where the male and female leads are caught in a rainstorm and end up taking shelter in an observatory. Brilliant, I thought. This guy is brilliant.” 
-David Denby for the New Yorker wrote, “As romantic comedy, “Magic in the Moonlight” is formulaic; you can see the plot reversals before they come. At times, the movie sounds like an overwritten drawing-room comedy from eighty years ago, or like Shaw without the irony. But Firth, in a broad-ranging performance—from rage to enchantment and back again—carries it through. It’s his show.” He continues, “It’s an accomplished, stately movie—unimpassioned but pleasing.” 
-Alan Scherstuhl for the Village Voice wrote, “Magic in the Moonlight's mystery is pedestrian and predictable, and its lovers -- Colin Firth and Emma Stone -- fall for one another for no reason other than they happen to be the leads in a Woody Allen movie. Everyone declaims the film's meager themes, as if we're watching the actors' what's-my-motivation? prep work rather than their final performances. Even Stone and Firth speaking Allen's lumpish dialogue is something like getting down a mouthful of oatmeal. Occasionally, an actor will shape a line with the hopeful sharpness of a joke, which suggests that someone on set may have been telling them that the film is a comedy.” 
-Richard Lawson for Vanity Fair wrote, “Pretty and picturesque, and with some fun philosophical pondering livening up its thin story, the film is initially engaging. But, by the end, the icky relationship at its center has broken the spell.” 
-Michael Phillips for the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Among recent Woody Allen films, the crabby but pretty "Magic in the Moonlight" is a well-thumbed playing card from the middle of the deck, not one of his fully good ones ("Midnight in Paris," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), not one of the whiffs ("Cassandra's Dream," "Scoop," "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger").” 
- A.O. Scott for The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Allen has had his ups and downs over the years. Rarely, though, has he put a story on screen that manifests so little energy, so little curiosity about its own ideas and situations. “Magic in the Moonlight” is less a movie than the dutiful recitation of themes and plot points conducted by a squad of costumed actors. The tidy narrative may advance with clockwork precision, but the clock’s most prominent feature is the snooze button.” 
-Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “With "Magic in the Moonlight," Woody Allen has made a good Woody Allen movie, in all that the phrase implies. That is, it's good on its own, but it's also good when compared to Allen's body of work. It's very much in the pattern of this filmmaker: From the white-on-black opening credits, to the 1920s music on the soundtrack, to the nostalgic-sounding title, Allen is keeping the 20th century safe in the 21st.” 
-Scott Foundas for Variety wrote: “Romance blooms under the sun and the stars in Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight,” a high-spirited bauble that goes down easy thanks to fleet comic pacing, a surfeit of ravishing Cote d’Azur vistas and the genuinely reactive chemistry of stars Colin Firth and Emma Stone...Whenever [they’re] onscreen together, the movie sings; the rest of the time it’s never less than a breezy divertissement.” 
-Geoff Hudson for Le Bon Travel & Culture wrote, “Allen covers the most fundamental ideas and values of life with a charm, a wit, and a light comic touch that belies the importance of the filmmaker’s quest. Watching this movie is like eating the most delicious chocolate dessert while pondering one’s existence and one’s place in the universe...I thought Allen had peaked with Midnight in Paris, expecting that there was little he could do to match that splendid movie. But, I was wrong. Allen’s alchemy in Magic in the Moonlight is more spellbinding than anything he’s done before.” 
-Magic in the Moonlight has a 51% Rotten Tomatoes rating as of 2021.