In 1928, a globally famous illusionist, Wei Ling Soo, performs in front of a crowd in Berlin with his world-class magic act. As he walks off stage the film audience sees that he is actually a British man named Stanley (Colin Firth). He berates his employees and is generally curmudgeonly towards his well-wishers. In his dressing-room, he is greeted by old friend and fellow illusionist Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney). Howard enlists Stanley to go with him to the Côte d'Azur where a rich American family, the Catledges, has apparently been taken in by a clairvoyant and mystic, Sophie (Emma Stone). In fact, the son of the family, Brice (Hamish Linklater), is smitten with Sophie, and his sister Caroline (Erica Leerhsen) and brother-in-law George (Jeremy Shamos) are concerned Brice is considering proposing marriage. Howard says that he has been unable to uncover the secrets behind her tricks and he admits that the more he watched her the more he believed she really has supernatural powers. So he would like Stanley, who has debunked charlatan mystics in the past, to help him prove she is a fraud.
Howard and Stanley travel to the French Riviera, but Stanley is soon astonished by Sophie's ability to go into a fugue state and apparently pull out highly personal details about him and his family. Stanley witnesses a seance in which Sophie communicates with the deceased patriarch of the American family. A candle floats up from the table and Howard grabs it to try to discern what trickery is at play, but is astounded to find no apparent subterfuge. Stanley begins spending time with Sophie. He takes her to visit his aunt and they drive a convertible along the picturesque rocky corniches.
When Stanley and Sophie visit his aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), Sophie is seemingly able, after holding aunt Vanessa's pearls, to somehow relate secret details of Vanessa's one great love affair. This finally convinces Stanley of Sophie's authenticity and he has an emotional epiphany, feeling that his lifelong rationalism and cynicism have been misguided. When caught in a rain storm, they end up at an observatory that Stanley had visited as a child. After the rain subsides, they open the roof up and view the stars.
At a Gatsby-esque party, Stanley and Sophie dance. As they walk together later that night, Sophie asks him if he has felt any feelings for her "as a woman". Stanley, who has admired her talents as a mystic and is grateful to her for opening his eyes to a new worldview, is taken aback and admits that he has not thought of her that way. She leaves upset. The next day Stanley holds a press conference to tell the world that he, who spent his life debunking charlatan mystics, has finally come to find one who is the real deal. The reporters drill him with questions, but the grilling is interrupted when he receives news his aunt Vanessa has been in a car accident.
Stanley rushes to the hospital, and in an emotional scene in a waiting room considers turning to prayer for solace. That is, if he now has come to believe in divination and mysticism, perhaps he should believe in God and prayer. He begins to pray for a miracle to save his aunt, but is unable to go through with it. The rationality that has been his whole life comes back and he rejects prayer, the supernatural and by extension, Sophie and her powers. He decides once more to prove she is a fraud.
Using a trick seen earlier in his stage act, Stanley appears to leave the room but stays to overhear Sophie and Howard discuss their collusion in what has been an elaborate ruse. He discovers that Sophie was able to know so much about him and his aunt because she and Howard collaborated to fool Stanley. Sophie was indeed a charlatan tricking the rich American family and was quickly discovered by Howard. Rather than unmask her and stop the ruse, he enlisted Sophie to help him one-up his best friend and rival, Stanley.
Stanley is initially angry at Howard and Sophie but decides to forgive them. In a conversation with his aunt Vanessa, who has recovered from her car accident, Stanley admits and fully realizes that he is in love with Sophie. He finds her and asks her not to marry Brice, but marry him instead. Sophie is taken aback and finds his haughty, awkward proposal unsuitable. She tells him she still plans to marry the wealthy Brice. Returning dejected to his aunt Vanessa's, Stanley further admits that he fell in love with Sophie at first sight, and, saddened, is then surprised when Sophie, who had arrived before him, knocks a spirit knock. He proposes, she accepts with a spirit knock, and they kiss as the film ends.Colin Firth as Stanley Crawford
Emma Stone as Sophie Baker
Hamish Linklater as Brice
Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. Baker
Jacki Weaver as Grace
Erica Leerhsen as Caroline
Eileen Atkins as Aunt Vanessa
Simon McBurney as Howard Burkan
Catherine McCormack as Olivia
Lionel Abelanski as the Doctor
In April 2013, Colin Firth and Emma Stone joined the cast of the film. In July, they were joined by Jacki Weaver, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hamish Linklater, and director Woody Allen began shooting in Nice, France. Allen revealed the film's title to be Magic in the Moonlight on October 15, 2013.
- "You Do Something to Me" by Cole Porter, performed by Leo Reisman and His Orchestra
- "It's All a Swindle" ("Alles Schwindel") by Mischa Spoliansky and Marcellus Schiffer, performed by Ute Lemper
- "Moritat" from The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, performed by Conal Fowkes
- "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" by Joseph A. Burke and Al Dubin, performed by Nat Shilkret and His Orchestra
- "Big Boy" by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen, performed by Bix Beiderbecke
- "Thou Swell" from A Connecticut Yankee by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Bix Beiderbecke
- "Sorry" by Raymond Klages, performed by Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang
- "The Sheik of Araby" by Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder, performed by Sidney De Paris and De Paris Brothers Orchestra
- "Chinatown, My Chinatown" by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, performed by the Firehouse Five Plus Two
- "Remember Me" by Sonny Miller, performed by Al Bowlly
- "Charleston" by James P. Johnson and R. C. McPherson, performed by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra
- "Sweet Georgia Brown" by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard and Kenneth Casey, performed by The California Ramblers
- "You Call It Madness (But I Call It Love)" by Con Conrad, Gladys DuBois, Russ Colombo and Paul Gregory, performed by Smith Ballew and His Piping Rock Orchestra
- "At the Jazz Band Ball" by Larry Shields, Anthony S. Barbaro, D. James LaRocca and Edwin B. Edwards, performed by Bix Beiderbecke & His Gang
- "It All Depends on You" by Ray Henderson, Lew Brown and B. G. DeSylva, performed by Ruth Etting
- "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)" by Fred E. Ahlert and Roy Turk, performed by Conal Fowkes
Used in the film but not on the soundtrack are:"The Adoration of the Earth" from The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, performed by the London Festival Orchestra
Boléro by Maurice Ravel, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Molto vivace, second movement from Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
"Thou Swell" from A Connecticut Yankee by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by Cynthia Sayer and Hamish Linklater
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" by Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy, performed by Cynthia Sayer and Hamish Linklater
"Who?" from Sunny by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern, performed by David O'Neal and Hamish Linklater
The film was set to be released on July 25, 2014. On October 17, 2013, it was announced that FilmNation Entertainment would handle the international sales for the film and Sony Pictures Classics had acquired North American distribution rights to it. On July 25, 2014, the film opened in seventeen US theaters. and expanded nationwide in the US on August 15, 2014.
Magic in the Moonlight received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 52%, based on 157 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The site's consensus states: "While far from a failure, Magic in the Moonlight is too slight to stand with Woody Allen's finest work." Review aggregator Metacritic assigns the film a score of 54 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Rex Reed, writing for The New York Observer, gave the film a largely positive review, calling it "a masterstroke of enchantment" and praising Colin Firth's acting. Jordan Hoffman of Film.com also enjoyed the film, stating, "This picture isn’t as showy or obvious as one of his (many) masterpieces, but it is quite good and deserves your time and respect." In The New Yorker, David Denby agreed that Colin Firth "carries [the film] through." In The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern complimented Emma Stone and concluded, "Think of it as a 97-minute séance that draws you in, spins you around, subverts your suppositions, levitates your spirits and leaves you giddy with delight"
However, in Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson criticized Emma Stone's acting, arguing, "her line delivery is too modern to really work convincingly in the period, and like many other nonetheless talented actors, she has trouble with Allen’s stilted, formal cadence." He added that the age gap between Stone and Firth was "a little gross" and "icky". Alan Scherstuhl of the Village Voice disliked the film, criticizing its familiarity to Allen's previous work and believing the writing was uninspired. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a "B-" grade (from A+ to F), remarking that it was funny and "pleasant" but also forgettable. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir felt that the characters were not drawn out enough because of poor writing. The New York Times' A. O. Scott 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."
In 2016 film critics Robbie Collin and Tim Robey ranked it as one of the worst movies by Woody Allen.
The film opened in limited release in North America on July 25, 2014. In 17 theaters, it grossed $412,095 ($24,241 per screen) in its opening weekend. It expanded to 964 theaters on August 15, grossing $1,786,150 ($1,853 per screen) in three days. By the end of its North American run, it grossed $10,539,326.
Overseas, the film earned $40.5 million, for a worldwide gross of $51 miilion.
The first trailer was released on May 21, 2014.