Review: Midnight In Paris

 

*Mild Spoilers*

At the beginning of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky, John Malkovich, Debra Winger and Campbell Scott have a fascinating conversation about the nuance between being a tourist and being a traveler. The working definition given to us is that a tourist is thinking about going home the minute they arrive, where as the traveler might never return home. Owen Wilson in Midnight In Paris, is the traveler of the film, albeit he wants not only to stay in Paris, but in the 1920s era of the European city (the film is set in 2011), when American writers careened from cocktail party to wine-bar as fuel for their own creative (and lusty) output. His fiance is most definitely the tourist, berating her husband-to-be’s notion of romanticizing the city, and wanting to go back to their consumerist lifestyle back in Malibu. The director, Woody Allen is caught somewhere in the middle. He has the eye of a tourist, in terms of the opening montage that goes perhaps a scene or two too long offering glimpses of cafes and fountains and the Eiffel Tower, but then shifts into a rumination on the nature and dangers of nostalgia that offers an interesting take on his own lengthy career. When you have made 45 or so films spanning 5 decades, I am certainly inclined to listen to what you have to say. But by the halfway mark, I believe Allen has said what he will, and is most inclined to stay in safe, crowd-pleasing kitsch territory that panders to the filmmakers base as much as it exhausts his argument and artistry. I pine for honest surprise of Allen’s breaking of the fourth wall by (literally) dragging Marshall McLuhan into the frame, rather than his facile two dimensional artist cameos on display here. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The story, such that it is, has Hollywood hack-writer, Gil, travelling to Paris with his shrewish fiancee Inez (a wonderfully cast against type, Rachel McAdams – at her most bitchy!) and her republican judgmental parents (more Mimi Kennedy please, she steals every scene she is in.) Gil loves the city, wants to move there in fact, but is really in love with the notion of what the city was like in the F. Scott Fitzgerald days, the Pablo Picasso days, the Ernest Hemingway days when thing were a hotbed of american writers and artists at play. Eventually, after the film tires exhausts the comic potential watching Michael Sheen as a pedantic blow-hard basically seduce Inez right out from under her oblivious fiancee, Gil gets his ‘wish’ of sorts. Climbing into an antique car at midnight in a back alley, he is transported to a version of 1920s Paris where the major writers, filmmakers, painters and collectors of the era all seemingly occupy the same street corner. There he gets to blow smoke up their ass, and have them look at his unfinished novel (set in a nostalgia shop, naturally!) while participating in the gossip and hanky-panky of the day. Marion Cotillard shows up as a writer and socialite (having slept with Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso in that order) who thinks the 20s are not nearly as interesting as the Belle Époque era of the late 19th century with Moulin Rouge and its Can-Can dancers. In an Inception (or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) like move, there is a horse and carriage that pulls up in the 1920s and takes Gil (and Cotillard) back to hang out with Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who pine for the renaissance. Mercifully, Allen and company stop short of further time travels within time travels, as his point is made startlingly clear: There is interesting stuff happening all the time, take your head out of your ass and look around. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the hill, it just has the advantage of the perspective of time (and the sugar coating of nostalgia.) At one point I was inclined to think that this all is playing out in the goofy (and literal) brain of Gil, but this even goofier thread involving a private investigator (who ends up in the court of Louis XV, don’t ask.) Be that as it may, credit to cinematographer Darius Khondji (The Ninth Gate, My Blueberry Nights, Seven) who maximizes the wet roads and misty alleyways of Paris both present and past.

In summary, I personally think that Allen has covered this ground better, and with a greater degree of subtly and grace, and we don’t have to go as far back as The Purple Rose of Cairo, one has only look at his last picture, the underrated You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, which admittedly is saddled with a distinctly less romantic contemporary London, but has a lot more interesting characters and story at play. But hey, if you want the facile cuteness of Adrian Body hamming it up as Salvador Dali (Rhino!) or Owen Wilson as the off-the-cuff inspiration for Louis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (admittedly chuckle-worthy), that is your, and the Woodman’s, prerogative. The blunt approach in Midnight In Paris fails to fully explore a theme that seems tailor made for this director in favour of easy titillation. Pass the butter.

 

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Andrew James
Admin

No Walter, you’re not wrong…. you’re just an ASSHOLE!

Andrew James
Admin

Why does a movie HAVE to say something super duper interesting? Which this movie actually does. Why can’t something just be entertaining as hell and work like clockwork on all cylinders.

Because of Inception, I’m so sick of people saying, “there, see? Not all movies have to be dumbed down.”

First of all, I disagree with that statement completely. Secondly, I don’t think MiP is dumbed down at all. It takes common knowledge and brings it to the forefront with ultra delight, fantastic atmosphere, fully imagined characters and in the end, pure magic.

This is by far the best film I’ve seen all year. Or certainly my favorite. It is also Owen Wilson’s best performance since Bottle Rocket. Every actor/character in this film works like gangbusters. Every. Single. One.

Enjoy breaking down Tree of Life to the infinitesimal little detail and striving for weeks to find meaning where there is none. Me? I’d rather just be entertained with a smart and fun script and amazing characters. Remember the moments and emotion for a lifetime (occasionally revisit) and move on.

antho42
Guest

Pandering = Super 8

Christian Toto
Guest

A great talent running on fumes …
I think some of the reviews praising the film are more intellectually robust than the film itself. Allen piles caricature atop caricature (both the ’20s figures and the main characters) until we’re left with a frothy but simplistic yarn. Sheen’s character spells out the message in the first 20 minutes, and then when we hear it near the end credits we’re supposed to think what, exactly?

BTW, just found this site and am enjoying the writing!

Nat Almirall
Guest

Haven’t seen MiP yet, but after listening to the podcast and reading the review and its comments (in all their gentlemanly froth), I wonder how Andrew would stack this against Allen’s Radio Days, which shares a common theme of nostalgia and mocks the cult of celebrity but ultimately celebrates more than it criticizes. It’s also one of ’80s Allen’s most entertaining films. I suspect it’d also be the kind of meatier fare Kurt would go for.

filmgurl
Guest

Interesting review. I’ve heard some positive ones about this one. Though, I have to admit – I kind of have mixed feelings about some of Allen’s films in general. I think they are geared more towards a specific audience. I’ve been debating whether to see this one, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Ms Curious
Guest

This film took me to a point and left me there. Almost…but not quite (a sentence I’ve uttered to many a lover). Also, how many cameo appearances are acceptable? This film topped it, and left so many worthy actors ultimately just heaped in a pile of ash. For me, ‘almost….is never good enough’. Too much, too late, without any real brunt…left me dead cool.

Sarah Bobs
Guest

I’d have to agree with Ms Curious and Kurt- this was entertaining but couldn’t take it any further than that. Andrew- you say a film doesn’t need to be deep, but I disagree, a film that is not deep won’t draw you in and that is what acting is about. This film scraped surfaces but didn’t give us much more than a dozen or so impersonations that were fun but little more.

Nat Almirall
Guest

Not to beat a decomposing prostitute in the trunk of your car, but I finally saw it, and I didn’t see it as a criticism of nostalgia. Allen certainly dresses down cultural icons, but his characters ultimately seem happier in the past than the present. If anything, I think he’s pointing out that a lot of the “great” artists of the past were probably blowhards in real life (Michael Sheen’s character shares more than a few similarities with Hemingway; he’d seem right at home in ’20s Paris, and I think Allen’s hinting that, 90 years hence, Sheen’s character will be treated with similar reverence), but, despite that, you can still admire the art if not the artist.

Nat Almirall
Guest

I think many of the characters in the present have their mirrors in the past. Both Zelda Fitzgerald and Rachel McAdams’ characters disrespect their husbands and find solace in the company of other men, for example (as does Marion Cotillard’s character), and none of them have much of an appreciation for their man’s aesthetics. Perhaps you could say it’s misogynistic, but the only woman who seems to have the proper respect for art is the lesbian.

Anyway, I had some further thoughts on it in my review here: http://theflickcast.com/2011/06/16/film-review-midnight-in-paris-2/

Bob Turnbull
Admin

Though I’m not quite at Andrew’s 5/5 rating (Inez and her family really didn’t have to be THAT annoying in every respect, did they?), I grew to be quite charmed by this film. Fully realized character? How about Cotillard’s Adriana? Sexy, smart (she was a fashion designer though, not a writer), curious, restless and by no means a 2D cutout. Wilson’s Gil was also interesting enough for me to have been “rooting” for him all the way through. If the theme of the movie is not overly subtle, I didn’t feel it “blunt” at all. For me, it wound up as a “live in the present, but feel free to embrace the past” point of view.

And I enjoyed the crap out of the cameos. Too many? Well, maybe a shade, but for the most part they were played in top fashion. Brody was a great deal of fun as Dali (the broadest of them I would say) and Alison Pill was terrific as Zelda Fitzgerald. And you didn’t laugh out loud at Hemmingway’s “Have you ever shot a charging lion?” Yeah, well I did (so did my wife – both of us at the same time. OK, we may have been the only two in the theatre to do it, but still…). Bunuel’s “But why don’t they just leave?” was pretty funny too, but yeah, that was a bit too specific.

I would kill to see that panoramic Monet though…

Andrew James
Admin

Yes, Adrian was studying under Coco Chanel for a time. And yes, Pil should be given some type of award for that role.