From Andrew O’Hehir‘s Salon review of Woody Allen‘s Magic in the Moonlight: “Every so-called plot twist is telegraphed in advance, the chemistry between Emma Stone and Colin Firth is negligible (although they both look terrific in period evening wear), and the cast of fine actors around them is arranged as types rather than individuals: Hamish Linklater as the insipid rich boy in love with Sophie, Jacki Weaver as the credulous old biddy, Eileen Atkins (bringing a hint of life to the dismal proceedings) as Stanley’s onetime bohemian aunt. But those things, even the zero-wattage romance, aren’t as fatal as the first-draft quality of the script and the lethargy of the direction.”

That’s been a hallmark of Allen’s films for some time now, hasn’t it? A first-draft feeling to the script and a lack of innovative pizazz in the shooting and cutting? Didn’t Blue Jasmine, Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and even Match Point feel this way also? I’ve been bitching about this all along and it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone, least of all Allen. The DNA that goes into his brand is not going to change. Who goes to a Woody Allen film these days expecting to savor the push-pull engagement that was palpable in his ’70s, ’80s and ’90s films? Older artists tend to be less reflexive, no? They’re not absorbing as much as much as they did when they were younger and “in the game,” as it were. Their arteries tend to harden.

I regret to say, however, that O’Hehir is not altogether wrong in this passage:

“Even in [Stone and Firth’s] scenes together, they appear to be strangers who have just met and are flinging bons mots at each other without listening for signs of life from the other party,” O’Hehir writes. “There’s considerable pontification in Magic in the Moonlight but no conversation; characters state their positions and click the plot forward mechanically from one scene to the next, without any sense of experience or change. It’s like the work of a bright high-school student who’s been dazzled by Noel Coward’s dialogue, and is finding out it’s not as easy as it looks.”

The difference for some of us is that Magic is expressing a poignant, easy-to-understand theme, and it has next to nothing to do with the romantic connection (or lack thereof) between Stone and Firth or anyone else.

“The romantic issues are clearly secondary in Magic in the Moonlight,” I wrote on 7.18. “I would even call them incidental in a sense. For it’s really a film about Stanley’s mind and soul — a spiritually-directed thing about mystical or after-life issues. In short, Woody is pushing 80 and…well, he’s starting to wonder a bit. He’s not falling for any religious hooey a la Bob Dylan in the ’70s, but Magic is still the first Woody flick that includes a sincerely written and performed scene in which the lead tries to pray, or at least have some sort of open-hearted conversation with an Overseeing Presence who has an interest in the condition of humans on that insignificant speck of terra firma known as Earth.”