Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

I went into Woody Allen's latest international rumination on infidelity knowing very little about it, and I would advise anyone who hasn't seen it to do the same. Just know that Midnight in Paris is very fluffy, but extremely fun, and had me smiling almost the entire running time as Owen Wilson's character effectively lived out one of my fantasies. So my advice to you now would be to run out and see it, and read my review upon your return. It's ok, I'll wait.

Are you back? Good. Let's press on.

In Woody's ode to the romanticized version of Paris that we all recognize in some way, Wilson stars as Gil, a hack screenwriter and aspiring novelist who is obsessed with all things Parisian as well as early-twentieth century culture. He visits the city with his high-strung fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), as her parents are there for a business trip. While Inez reconnects with an old friend (Michael Sheen), Gil finds himself walking the streets of Paris at night and stumbling upon a time vortex that transports him back to the roaring twenties, where he immediately meets Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and a range of other cultural heavyweights. He starts to fall for Picasso's current muse/lover, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), questioning his relationship with his fiancee and his desire to live in another era.

Admittedly, the present-day stuff could use some work, primarily with Rachel McAdams' character and the dynamic between her and Gil. She comes off as this stuck-up, condescending woman with few redeeming characteristics, and she and Gil are constantly bickering. There just isn't any indication that these two people would ever want to date in the first place, much less get married, so the audience is basically encouraged by the prospect of Gil getting together with another woman. It felt very one-sided and strange, as Allen shows very little foundation for their relationship, and it became unbelievable and a bit sexist (in that the woman is shown to be entirely at fault, and comes off as an unfeeling harpy, basically). But I guess that happens in a lot of movies, and she really isn't any kind of focus here.

OTHERWISE THOUGH I loved this movie. The myriad appearances from famous people from the 20's- mostly writers and artists- were a constant delight, as were Owen Wilson's adorable reactions. He is bemused and ecstatic to be in the presence of so many of his heroes, and to re-live what he considers to be the greatest historical period in his favorite city. He has winking conversations with the likes of Buñuel and Hemingway, slipping in jokes and references about their future experiences. The figures themselves are of course comedically exaggerated versions of their real selves, with Dali obsessing over a rhinoceros for an entire scene and Hemingway waxing poetic about war every five seconds and Zelda discussing her insecurities with her work every chance she gets, etc. But it's how we choose remember them, really.

The whole theme of "Hey, every generation thinks earlier generations were better, so no one will ever be happy in the time they're born in, so get over it" is admittedly beaten into the ground a bit, but it is a valid motif that warrants some observation. The fun and imaginative premise and the excellent performances counter-balance most of the script mishaps, so I was generally a happy gal! I mean really, how could a movie that involves hanging out with Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Gertrude Stein (backed by one of my favorite Picasso portraits) NOT win me over?


Pair This Movie With: I'll offer two routes. For another Woody tale of a person who goes abroad and finds the life they've always dreamed of comes with its own complications, there's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Or, for more time-traveling shenanigans with famous people, there's always Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.


  1. This movie really made me want to be a writer for five minutes.

  2. Man, I wish I could hang out with Salvador Dali so he can talk about rhinos and talk films with Bunuel. I love this movie. Woody just won me over big time.

  3. I don't think I would have loved this film as much as I did had it come out last year, as I had actually been on a loose Lost Generation kick for a bit for the last year. I got the Dali jokes only because I got to see the touring exhibit of his work a few months ago, and I spent about a month learning about Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot and a few other LG writers, so I got far more jokes than I would have even six months ago.

    But man did I love this film. Woody finally put the lightness back into his work; he spent so many years wanting to be Bergman that, ironically, he forgot how funny Bergman could be even at his most dour. Allen used to be able to do that too, and the spark was missing even in very good late-career movies like VCB or Match Point. But this was aces.

    I do share your hesitation over McAdams and her family, though. It's one thing to get some digs in at Republicans, but when McAdams flat-out bitches over the jewelry Gil buys to his face, it just goes beyond believability. I couldn't give the film a full five stars (which I would otherwise have been very tempted to do) because of it.

    I did try to find some justification, though, and mostly I would say that Allen, who inserts himself into most of his movies and blatantly does so here (and Wilson makes for his best avatar since Woody himself stopped acting). I think we're given a deliberately subjective, thin view of the present to feed into Gil's shallow interpretation of it, thus making the past all the more enticing. Gil is so caught up in nostalgia for time periods that aren't even his own that he doesn't see how simplistic he's made his actual existence. Plus, I think Allen is making a point about how the people who have the most access to travel and world culture tend to be the ones who least appreciate it. Like, anyone who goes to France and bitches about the food is an asshole. Still, I wish they had at least a bit more dimension to them.

  4. i agree the present day stuff was less interesting. i was pretty much wrapped up in this bon bon. was surprised how good wilson was and i loved the cast.

  5. This movie was excellent! I love your review for it. And wasn't it great that they remembered to include Man Ray? Adrien Brody did Dali's crazy eyes perfectly!

    Rachel McAdams' character bugged me the entire time though. I guess she's supposed to, but when Allen has other movies with troubled couples that shows both sides equally, it gets frustrating to see this one, where it's so one-sided.

  6. Simon: How encouraging!

    thevoid99: Definitely! This might be the Woody film I just flat-out enjoyed the most.

    Jake: Good points, all. I understand that it's one-sided because so much of it is focused on Gil's experience, but it did just frustrate me. I see what you mean about the present being shown as his shallow interpretation of it. Interesting take.

    MrJeffery: Yeah Wilson is often hit or miss with me but I enjoyed him here!

    Allison: Exactly, it just seemed sort of juvenile to have this completely one-dimensional character and nonsensical relationship. Glad you liked everything else though!

  7. This seems to be getting a lot of love from bloggers at the minute. Whether it's justified or not doesn't really matter does it? We always find reasons to like something if want to like it. Your reason is as good as any I've read so far. Not sure if I'll see it though.

  8. This smile is because 1) I agree with you on everything, and 2) As I write this comment, Steve Martin is looking at me through your website.