Sunday, August 7, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

You probably either *are* a Woody Allen person or you're *not*. His films, for the most part, have a very distinct voice and a distinct style. The opening credits are all in the same familiar font, perfectly and simply underscoring this fact. I consider myself on his side of the fence, even though I tend to admire his films more than I love them. I love pieces of Annie Hall (Marshall McLuhan, FTW!), I love the look and the sound of Manhattan (because it's such a travelogue of New York), and I love the themes in Crimes and Misdemeanors. But his films have largely left me cold, emotionally, with the glaring exception of Sweet and Lowdown.

Midnight in Paris feels both like an atypical Woody Allen film and at the same time is very typical of his work. There is the central character, a neurotic writer, who would have been played by Woody himself twenty or thirty years ago. The central character clashes intellectually with the mundane and pedantic people whose company he is forced to endure. And the whole story takes place in a great city and is as much a love song to that city as a story in its own right. That city used to be New York in all his films, but he has branched out lately. I don't think he quite *got* London well enough to pull this off in Match Point, but he certainly seems to *get* Paris (at least, from what I understand - I've never been *sniff*). But there is an optimism and sentimentality in Midnight that I have never really associated with Woody's films, and it's kind of refreshing.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter in Hollywood who is vacationing in Paris with his fiancee, Inez (played by the flawless Rachel McAdams). The two of them and Inez's mother are pretty much piggybacking on her father's business trip, and we see instantly that Inez and her family are not where Gil needs to be, for the sake of his sanity, not to mention his creative impulses. They are frequently joined on their tourist ramblings by an old college professor of Inez's, Paul (Michael Sheen) and his wife Carol, because Paul is in town getting ready to start lecturing at La Sorbonne. Paul is an "expert" on everything, frequently corrects tour guides, and is the kind of person that we all have known and have frequently wanted to throttle into non-existence. Old HP ship debaters will no doubt call to mind at least one or two names among our former opponents that fit this bill.

Though Gil makes a respectable living churning out movie scripts and this is something he's quite good at, he's dissatisfied. He's written a novel, but he's afraid to show it to anyone. Inez suggests he show it to Paul, but obviously Gil would rather spork his own eyes out than let Paul anywhere near it. Inez sort of pokes fun at the book, making Gil tell everyone about the main character who works in a nostalgia shop, which everyone but Gil thinks is trite and hilarious. This kind of stings Gil, on whom the book character is quite obviously based.

One evening after dinner, Gil goes for a walk on his own and gets a bit lost. He sits on some steps and after a while a car pulls up. Not just any car - a 1920s model Peugeot. Several people are inside and a man beckons him to come along with them. Gil is reluctant, because who are these people?, but goes along for the ride. They soon arrive at a party and a woman introduces herself to Gil as Zelda. They are soon joined by her husband, Scott Fitzgerald. At this point, I'm thinking (and perhaps so is Gil) that this is a rich people theme party, where everyone has come dressed as their favorite writer or something and for some reason everyone is staying in character. But no. This is actually Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. And Cole Porter is playing the piano. They go to a bat and Gil meets Ernest Hemingway. Gil has somehow traveled back in time to 1920s Paris, his idea of Paris's Golden Age and the place and time where he would have most loved to live, and is hobnobbing with the artistic giants who have inspired him. But when he leaves a place by himself, he leaves the 1920s behind and goes back to his own world.

He tries to show all this to Inez the next night, but he doesn't quite understand how the magic works yet, so she doesn't see anything special. She leaves, rolling her eyes madly at him, and the clock strikes midnight, which Gil realizes is the key. The car comes along again and takes him to meet Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). Ernest Hemingway, who he'd met the night before, promised to introduce him to her and ask her to read his manuscript and give him feedback. Hemingway wouldn't read the book himself, telling Gil "I hate it ... If it's bad I'll hate it because it's bad. If it's good, I'll hate it because I'm jealous." Stein is going to read the book later, but she reads the first sentence or two aloud, and we see that Gil is a gifted writer. His talent catches the attention of a woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who is having an affair with Pablo Picasso. Gil and Adriana talk and there is an obvious connection between them, and over the course of several more visits to the past, Gil realizes that he's falling in love with her and she with him.

And then comes the most perfect scene in the film. Gil tries to engineer things with Adriana that ought to have happened (and probably would have) naturally, but as they pause on the street, a carriage approaches and stops, beckoning them to come along, much like the Peugeot has stopped for Gil each night. It drops them off at Maxim's restaurant. In the 19th century, Belle Epoque. Adriana's idea of Paris's Golden Age. You guys, I seriously cried from the magic.

I won't spoil the rest of it - I've gone on quite long enough already - but it ends fairly happily, in a way that many will probably expect. This has been out a while, and I was a bit surprised it was still in theaters this past weekend when I went. I don't know whether this will be your cup of tea or not - lately I haven't been too confident in my radar. But if you have a warm sigh in your heart for Paris or are a nostalgic or romantic person, I could not recommend this more highly.

1 comment:

  1. This is still my favorite film of the year. I went with non-Woody Allen fans and they enjoyed it as well.