Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 

Woody Allen is, if nothing else, prolific. The last year in which he didn’t direct a feature film was 1981, and that has to be offset by the years he released two feature films within months of each other. As a result of his copious output, and his constant need to come up with a new idea (however misguided) and run with it, Allen’s films can be hit-or-miss. He may be well-remembered for legitimate masterpieces like “Annie Hall,” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but he was also behind weird, clunky, unfunny comedies like “Hollywood Ending” and “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” But with each stumble, Allen, now 75, has resolutely stood back up and given it another try. This year he released “Midnight in Paris,” and it’s surely his best film since “Match Point” and his best comedy since “Deconstructing Harry.” Indeed, it may be one of the best films of 2011.

 

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a neurotic Woody Allen-type (and there seems to be one in most of Allen’s films), and a professional Hollywood brush-up writer, who is on vacation in Paris with his pretty fiancee (Rachel McAdams) and her family. His fiancee and future in-laws are snotty Republican New Money, who are rich enough to have access to the good stuff, but aren’t really classy or imaginitiveenough to seek it out. They are content to go through the motions of the ultrawealthy, going to wine tastings and art museums, and have to rely on the smug, pedantic know-it-all Paul (a very good Michael Sheen) to point out the details in Rodan’s sculptures. Gil, meanwhile, grows increasingly put off by this lifestyle, prefering to dwell in the older parts of Paris, where he can indulge his love of quaint objets d’art like record players, old books, typewriters, and dreams of an older time when being a hack Hollywood screenwriter paled in the romance of Paris’ 1920s. He likes walking in the rain, and his fantasies only involve writing and relaxing and romance.

 

One night, desperately trying to get away from a stuffy party, Gil gets lost in the back alleyways of Paris. When the clock strikes midnight, a car pulls up next to him, and implores that he get aboard. He does so, and is taken to a party where everyone is dressed nice, the quality of the light is different, and the people all seem to be genuinely smart and erudite, and having a great time. He is introduced to Zelda (Alison Pill) and Scott (Tom Hiddlston), and they point out that Cole is on piano. Ernest (Corey Stoll) comes in and calls Zelda “a movable feast.” Gil soon figures out that he has somehow been transported to the late 1920s, And that he’s rubbing elbows with the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway. When Hemingway offers to take Gil’s manuscript to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) for perusal, Gil runs back to his hotel room to get it, only to find that he’s back in the present. Too bad.

 

But every midnight at that same corner, the same car appears, and Gil once again enters into this wonderful midnight world of Paris’ artistic elite from nearly a century ago. He gets to meet all his heroes, like Picasso, Matisse, Dali (a celebratory Adrien Brody), Buñuel, and T.S. Eliot. And, most strikingly, he finds himself falling in love with a mysterious woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who was once Picasso’s mistress, and seems to share Gil’s taste for old-world romance.

 

While I have heard some critics slam “Midnight in Paris” for being a self-indulgent fantasy for grad students (The Onion called it “Night at the Museum” for Liberal Arts Majors), there is something more important going on in Allen’s film. While it is fun to play spot-the-literary-icon throughout, and you might find yourself patting yourself on the back for knowing who, say, Djuna Barnes is (“No wonder she wanted to lead!” yuk yuk), Allen seems to be making a very important statement on how nostalgia shapes our lives. Some of us may be drawn by novelty and impressing those around us, but many of us get lost in the world of old books, and have romantic notions of how great the past was.

 

Yes, the past was great (in certain regards), and there were romantic periods of incredible artistic output. We would give anything to be there in person, knowing what we do today. But how does that serve us in the present? How important are these romantic fantasies? What function do they serve? As someone who has spent a good deal of his life interested in old jazz record, Ingmar Bergman movies, old-world European cities, and the halcyon neighborhood glow of the aging New York, Allen has surrounded himself in a comforting nest of nostalgia. With “Midnight in Paris” he has become mature enough to examine that worldview. As a result, he takes us on a romantic trip, where we get to contemplate our own nostalgia, and relive it while trying to some to terms with the fact that we, inevitably, must live in the present.

 

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Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Adrien Brody talking nonsense about rinoceroses as Salvador Dali was the funniest 5 minutes of cinema this year! I’m so glad you like this movie cuz I loved it to pieces. 🙂

  2. I adored the moment when Bunuel is asking “But why can’t they leave the room?” when Gil gives him the premise for The Exterminating Angel – and I think the quote “night at the museum for liberal arts majors” is pretty funny and pretty accurate… but I enjoyed this flick when I didn’t expect to at all.
    It was great.

  3. Hi, i writte about fashion and costume cinema. I take the photos for my blog, 😉


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