Midnight in Paris
June 27, 2011 by Zack
Woody Allen has been making films for nearly four decades, and he somehow has remained a prominent filmmaker even today. His films have ranged from screwball comedies (“Sleeper”, “Bananas”) to poignant dramas (“Another Woman”, “September”), and he’s always had a knack for blending comedy and drama (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Sweet and Lowdown”). Sometimes he’s just been plain whimsical, like in “Purple Rose of Cairo”; and here, in his latest feature, “Midnight in Paris”, he seems to have recaptured some of that magic again.
It’s almost impossible to know how Woody Allen continues to do this. He’ll be 76 years old in December and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Sure he’s made some weak films in the past decade (his worst being “Hollywood Ending” by far); but instead of giving up after all of the bad press, he kept going. In his last few years he’s had some more success with “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and “Whatever Works”. But “Midnight in Paris” really is the film that’s brought him back to his original form.
Every Woody Allen formula is in here: the bickering married couple who’s joined incidentally by an old friend, usually of the woman, and of course the friend is a sniveling jerk. The husband of the married couple is a bit neurotic or awkward. Here he’s played by Owen Wilson, invoking just enough of Allen’s spirit to be charming and just stopping short of an “impression” of Allen. His wife is played by Rachel McAdams, who does a fine job with Woody Allen’s always witty and snappy dialog. The sniveling jerk is well played by Michael Sheen, although you know if this were made 20 years ago, it’d be Alan Alda most likely playing that role, Woody playing the husband, and Diane Keaton playing the wife.
The plot revolves around the couple, Gil and Inez (Wilson and McAdams respectively), staying in Paris while Gil is trying to complete a novel–his first in his career as a writer. He’s a Hollywood “hack” screenwriter who I suppose would be your David Keopp or Shane Black. Someone who can whip up a blockbuster but has no real “soul” as a writer. He feels lost; but he’s found something in Paris. He wants to stay there. His wife wants to live in Malibu and continue being rich. You can already tell these two will not get along in most of their scenes together, and certainly their chemistry for this kind of banter works because Wilson and McAdams just devour their roles so well. Wilson has those big blue wondrous eyes that make you believe how much of a dreamer he is. And that’s exactly what you need to believe because one night after a dinner, Gil decides to walk the streets of Paris instead of going out dancing with his wife and her friends. He claims he needs some inspiration for his novel, which is about a man who owns and operates a nostalgia shop. Gil himself identifies with the character because he, himself, is sentimental about the past and would love to live in Paris in the 1920’s.
That night, as the clock strikes midnight, Gil gets his wish. He’s approached by an old automobile, a Pugeot, and he gets in and realizes he’s sharing a cab with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Later that night, he meets THE Ernest Hemingway and asks if he’ll read his book. Hemingway won’t because he’ll “hate” it (“If I don’t like it, I’ll hate it; if I do like it, I’ll hate it because I’ll wish I wrote it” to paraphrase). But he says he’ll let Gertrude Stein read it because he trusts her opinion.
Once Gil is transported into this world, the film flows like a Monet. It is an absolute joy to see all of these classic artists (which include Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali) mingle with each other, and with Gil. You can see in films like this, and “Radio Days”, how sentimental Woody Allen can be. And when he is, he really delivers.
There’s a bit of exposition in the third act that wraps things up with another character a little too easily; but by that point, we’re so whisked away in this world and wrapped up in it like a warm blanket on a chilly night that we don’t care about logic or formula. The ending is predictable as is the journey–but you want to take it anyway. This really is Woody Allen at his best and he’s right at home with this material. There are also some big laughs in the film, but you’ll be smiling the whole way through anyway.
A character in the beginning talks of nostalgia as being a crutch. Something we use to escape reality and live in the past. But what Allen proves is that revisiting the past can also open things up about yourself that living in the present may never do. It’ll teach you things about yourself, where you belong, and what you need to do for the future. In the present we take things for granted, in the past we learn what we’ve taken for granted. I mentioned before who the cast would’ve been in this film if it were made 20 years ago. It’s interesting how watching this movie made me think of older Woody Allen films, as I’m sure it will for anyone who is a fan. But as much as I was looking back on Allen’s career while watching the film, it never took away how much I enjoyed the movie I was watching–in the present.
Woody Allen continues to prove how great of a filmmaker he is, and this is just more evidence of that.