Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Release: Midnight in Paris

I have avoided a lot of reviews and done almost no reading about Midnight in Paris.  Mostly because I was pretty sure it would never come to a movie theater near me, and also I haven't really been a fan of recent Woody Allen films.  Some work, some don't.  Manhattan is awesome, I adore Mighty Aphrodite, thought Match Point was pretty good and that sums up my really positive associations with Allen, though I've seen most of his films.  Most of Allen's movies, particularly recently, have used other actors to play the "Woody Allen" role. They nearly always capture his basic personality, but none have done it as charmingly as Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.  It's almost as if Allen finally saw Wilson in a movie and realized he'd found a more plausible, handsome, funnier, "movie star" to play himself on film with young female starlets.

In less capable or articulate hands, this movie might have fallen completely into farce.  Instead, it retains charm, humor, and originality enough to make you smile the whole ninety minutes.  The story begins to defy summary, but I'll try.  Owen Wilson is a Hollywood writer who has come to Paris with his fiancee, Rachel McAdams, and is inspired by the streets of Paris to work on his novel.  She thinks very little of his intellectual pursuits, though loves to listen to Michael Sheen and his wife talk about cultural places and ideas.  One night Wilson is drunk and takes a walk back to his hotel.  After the clock strikes midnight an old-fashioned taxi appears and the partiers inside take him to a party where he meets Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill - so awesome!! and a VERY likeable Tom Hiddleston, Loki from Thor).  He can't really believe what he's seeing, but when he realizes it's actually Cole Porter, he basically says why not, I'm dreaming so I'll enjoy it.  Later that night he meets Ernest Hemingway (perfectly captured for comedic effect by Corey Stoll) who says he'll pass Wilson's manuscript on to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) for her opinion.
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wilson becomes infatuated with this world of 1920s Paris, returning night after night - first attempting to get McAdams to come too, but of course she thinks he's crazy so he goes alone.  It's his dream-world.  The most perfect place he can imagine being a part of.  I can't say I think he's wrong.  The number of influential people he meets, particularly as an artists himself, is awesome and not something easily repeatable in our own time.  The movie does a terrific job taking us on Wilson's journey, complete with a memorable soundtrack and jokes I could even remember after leaving the theater.  There are a lot of diverse characters, and some of the french conversation will be missed by some people (anyone who doesn't speak french or have a good grasp of romance languages will miss about a quarter of the film I think) but that won't actually lessen their enjoyment of the film at all.  And if you're not a fan of 1920s literature or art or weren't forced to read a fair amount of it in high school, you'll probably miss some of the references to the notable personalities passing through the scenes, but again, those are just bonus moments rather than the crux of any part of the story.

The blogger formerly known as the Mad Hatter, Ryan asks guests on his podcast a series of questions.  One is something along the lines of "what's a movie you wish you'd made".  I still remember my own response, Out of Africa just to be a part of recreating 1930s Kenya.  So perhaps my own "perfect time" would be actually experiencing 1930s Kenya.  Just as in Midnight in Paris Wilson has to convince someone else that the Belle Epoch (1890s Paris) isn't in fact any more perfect than 1920s Paris, I don't need to be convinced that my own "perfect time" isn't any better than the time I'm actually living in.  There's a degree of romanticism within the idea of dreaming about living in another time and place, but nearly always that dream comes with stipulations (I'd live in Jane Austen's time but only if I could be rich).  And Paris shows us that if we actually live our dreams we can see those stipulations come to life and living our own lives well is a better choice than wishing for something you can't have.

 This has to be my favorite Allen film ever made. The best romantic comedy made in years.  5 of 5 stars/lambs


Buttercup said...

Not sure anything can take the place of "Annie Hall" for me, but really enjoyed the movie. What a fun fantasy.

Dan O. said...

Wilson is great in this lead role, so is the rest of this ensemble in Allen's best film since Match Point. I'm glad to see that he still has good films like this in him, because for awhile I was starting to get worried. Nice review.

Yumi said...

I'm very late to this post I know, but I'm now very excited to see this movie soon (I missed out on it when it was in theaters). I will say though that I love Vicky Cristina Barcelona, so much so that I own it, and I should lend it to you. I don't know if you'll really like it, but is definitely interesting even if you don't...

Also I saw Thor on the plane to Australia, and while Tom Hiddleston did a good job in an otherwise kinda boring movie (Natalie Portman an astrophysicist? Really?), all I could think was, "Wow, that guy looks EXACTLY LIKE JOHNNY WEIR." Just thought that might amuse you!