Woody Allen's experience dabbling in the exploration of the world of magic and the occult is nothing new. His 2001 film, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which is also set in the earlier part of the twentieth century, focuses on a shysty hypnotist who gets C.W. Briggs (Allen) and Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) to act as jewel thieves. And then came Scoop in 2006, which follows Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an aspiring journalist, as she is haunted by the ghost of another reporter who appears to her in a magic show put on by illusionist Sid Waterman (Allen). Thus, Magic in the Moonlight seems a fine-tuning of the previous times Allen has dabbled with magic-themed plotlines.
This time around, Allen combines magicians and mediums in the year 1928 (he's always fond of the past, after all). Channeling a stodgier version of Allen's most famous character, Alvy Singer of Annie Hall, Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) a.k.a. Wei Ling Soo is a cynical and staunchly anti-phenomena illusionist who also prides himself on being able to debunk frauds and swindlers. When a fellow illusionist and friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), comes to Crawford to ask for his help in demystifying a medium named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), he is immediately game to do so. Convinced that exposing her phoniness will be easy, Crawford accompanies Burkan to the Azure Coast to see her in action.
Upon seeing Sophie "read thoughts," Stanley remains vehemently skeptical in spite of not being exactly sure how she could know so much about him (she mentions she's getting an "Orient vibe," in reference to Stanley's stage name). Although Sophie has won the affections of wealthy Brice Catledge (Hamish Linklater)--and has convinced the matriarch of the family of her talent--she seems far more intrigued by Stanley, allowing herself to be charmed by his brand of biting humor. She even cancels plans with Brice to go meet Stanley's Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) instead.
Regardless of how old Woody Allen gets--and regardless of the lingering taint of his child molestation accusation--he never ceases to include an inappropriate age difference between his leading man and woman. In this case, Firth is 54 and Stone is 26, making for a quintessentially Allen creep factor. But at least Firth has the dreamy charisma to pull it off, whereas Stone is still a bit too gawky to seem at ease with an older man.
As Stanley succumbs to believing in Sophie's magic, Sophie, in turn, starts to fall in love with him. However, just as Stanley thought, he should have known better than to believe in a world where miracles are possible. With Stanley's character a mirror of Allen's own (the usual case with every main male character in an Allen film, including the need to tell his love interest that she could be smarter, e.g. Annie Hall), it only makes sense that his cynicism would intensify after the disappointment of briefly believing in magic, only to have it be a ruse. However, it is in this form of Allen consistency that he has managed to sustain interest in his career all these many decades later. And arguably, it's better than the often overrated Midnight in Paris.