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Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
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Woody Allen’s Casual Misogyny in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’

Photo: Courtesy Sony Picture Classics, License: N/A

Courtesy Sony Picture Classics


So it has come down to this: Woody Allen has made a movie that is so bland, derivative of his earlier work and completely lazy that it’s possible to wonder just what it is the man believes. Is he, like Magic in the Moonlight’s Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) so immersed in his own ideas that even the slightest alteration of personal habits makes for, at best, an uncomfortable experience and at worst, horrific and tortured drudgery?

Or is he like Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to take the world on its own terms? If you’ve seen more than two Woody Allen films, you know the answer: He’s immersed in his own world at the expense of everything else, and he’s for damn sure not facing the world on its own terms.

Of course, why should he face the world on its own terms? This is the man who made Annie Hall, and Manhattan, and Bullets Over Broadway, and Match Point. These are movies that will go down in history as some of the best, or at least the best of Allen’s oeuvre.

But in dealing with Allen on his own terms, one also has to sift through the dregs, such as Bananas, and Scoop, and Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Anything Else, and Mighty Aphrodite. One could make the argument that Allen has made so many movies—and so many good movies—that his repetitive themes may be overlooked, even when those themes are repeated so often they become dull. Seriously: How about instead of a movie a year (which all but guarantees a share of clunkers, such as the recent Blue Jasmine, which has nothing resembling a human being, except maybe Andrew Dice Clay’s character), we alternate years and let the cream rise to the surface?

And that brings me to Magic in the Moonlight, which isn’t so much fresh cream as it is rotten curds. One taste guarantees death, or at least a very unpleasant couple days near the toilet. Worse yet is that it’s dressed up to be whimsical and silly, but it’s moldy and ugly.

Take, for example, the yellowface. Stanley, a famous magician, performs nightly in character as Wei Ling Soo, which is presumably a reference to William Robinson, a magician who performed as a character named Chung Ling Soo. Magic in the Moonlight takes place sometime after the Great War but before World War II, so sure, yellowface was common, or at least not considered in poor taste. But guess what? It’s 2014, and it’s in really poor fucking taste. At least Wei Long Soo doesn’t speak in character in the movie.

Then there’s one of Allen’s favorite tropes, the May-December romance. As of this writing, Firth is roughly 53 and Stone about 25. Ginormous age disparities have been all over the movies since forever, but it’s particularly creepy given Allen’s history of marrying his ex-girlfriend’s adopted daughter, whom he knew when she was a teenager.

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