Friday, June 3, 2011

Midnight In Paris - A Landaulet 184 Is Just As Good As A Pumpkin Coach

Unlike many, I’m the guy who’s enjoyed many of Woody Allen’s recent films. There’s a large number of folks, critics and regular janes alike, who think that, with a few fingers worth of notable exceptions, his post-2000 output has really sucked. While I don’t think that much of his recent work (Vicky Cristina Barcelona aside) is on par with his work in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, there’ve been some really fun pieces in the bunch.

Regardless of one’s position on the post-millenial Woodster, Midnight In Paris is a delight, filled with laughs, beautiful photography, and surprisingly valid insights into human behavior. Per one of his usual aesthetics, the hero is an insecure writer in an unfulfilling relationship. Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter with very real insecurities about his literary ambitions. In Paris with his fiancé, he’s forced to spend time with her unfriendly parents and insufferable friends until a fateful moment at midnight where he finds himself in a random classic car headed for a party (well, a BUNCH of parties) in 1920’s Paris. Suddenly Gil’s spending his days with a bunch of people he likes less and less, and his nights with his literary heroes.

Crazy setup, right? Wrong! Surprisingly, the whole thing really works. Wilson’s “aw, shucks. Me?” schtick is really effective when he starts running into Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and Stein. (and a wonderfully funny Adrien Brody taking a turn as Salvador Dali) He can’t believe he’s meeting these people, and we can’t believe our good fortune at getting to see him meet them. Over and over, just when he doesn’t think it can get any better, it does just that.

Additionally, Woody’s dialogue is just the kind of thing you’d expect. What’s wonderful about it (well, one of many such things) is that Woody doesn’t look down on his audience. Will you know who everyone is that Gil meets? Unless you’re smarter than this writer, which is a real possibility, probably not. Despite that, much as in the case of Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, knowing everything about these people isn’t the point. When Hemingway starts to wax eloquent (as he often does here) about bravery and courage, it’s funny. When he gets drunk and asks Adriana (Marion Cottilard) if she’s ever shot at a charging lion, you laugh out loud.

One of the things I love most about Midnight In Paris is the good, solid look it takes at the human tendency to ignore the good things to be found in the present because of a belief in the glory of an idealized past. See, when we look back, the rose-colored glasses come on. We don’t remember going to bed hungry. We remember that “times were hard, but we were happy!” So, for Gil, the artistic community of Paris in the 20’s is exactly where he thinks he wants to be, but what would he actually do there? Would you really be willing to throw away (because, yes, that’s exactly what you’d be doing) your life if you could go “back?” I think that, a few days after arriving, we’d realize that we were in a place just as crummy as the one we came from, albeit with a far less efficient plumbing system. I’d also argue that we’d want to get back to where we once belonged as soon as possible, but not because of penicillin and Facebook. Nope. We’d want to be there because of the people in our lives that give meaning to the often lousy situations we find ourselves in. I might regret not having valued things in my past like I should have, but if I went back, far too much would be lost in the transfer. Now, if you’re wanting to send me back about 30 years with enough money to do some investing in some little companies called Microsoft and Apple . . . well, then we can talk.

I’m very pleased to see such a strong piece of work after the limp, blandly uninteresting screenhog that was You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. In many ways, Midnight In Paris is closest to The Purple Rose of Cairo in the Allen canon, but that’s a topic for another day. I did feel that the ending snuck up on me, much like the case of The Social Network. In both cases, I would have happily stayed in my seat for another half hour to see where the story might go. With Midnight In Paris, I felt that there was a bit more that could have been explored in the end, but, in the days since seeing the film, it’s bothered me less and less.

Currently, Midnight In Paris is in limited release, but I’d recommend that you make the effort to seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.

4 stars (out of 5)


LittleDreamer said...


Katie Taylor Photography said...

I couldn't agree more! I loved it! I was really surprised by how believable it felt that he was dancing with Fitzgerald, drinking with Hemingway, and having his book critiqued by Gertrude Stein. And oh my gosh, his soon to be in laws, his fiancé, and her "friend" were so horrible! I would have welcomed any escape from them! And I completely agree with you that the theme was something everyone can relate to; from time to time I think we all have looked at the past with rose colored glasses.