Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris


To understand my feelings about Woody Allen's new romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris, you first must understand the Holmes Index. It rates movies by how hot it would have to be to go see a given movie in the theater and be delighted by the air conditioning, if nothing else. This is basically what happened with me and Midnight in Paris. I got home from a midday August wedding in an unair-conditioned venue and decided that I could not spend the evening in my unair-conditioned apartment, and this was the best local option. I went into it hoping to be somewhat entertained while I bought a few hours of cool air, and from that perspective, this surpassed my expectations: I was thoroughly charmed as I watched. But the more I thought about it afterward, the less impressed I remained.

The Story: Successful-screenwriter-turned-struggling-novelist Gil* (played both unexpectedly and unexpectedly well by Owen Wilson) accompanies his fiancee and her family to Paris, where he becomes obsessed with the idea of moving there to write and walk in the rain, much to the fiancee's chagrin. As he becomes frustrated with her conservative, snobby parents and know-it-all pseudo-intellectual friends, he starts walking around alone at midnight, when a car happens along to take him back in time. He goes to the 1920s - his idea of the best time to live in Paris - and hangs out with the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Dali, etc. He gets all sorts of inspiration and also falls in love with Picasso's mistress. They travel to the 1880s - her idea of the perfect time to live in Paris - where they meet famous artists who are wishing they lived in the Renaissance. So Gil realizes that everyone thinks an earlier time period was better, so the important thing is to do what you really want to do so you don't idealize another time. He breaks up with his fiancee and stays in Paris, where he may begin a romance with a Clemence Poesy doppelganger who sells Cole Porter records at the flea market and likes to walk in the rain.

The Good: Woody Allen certainly understands what the ego of the insecure arty leftist needs, and from Gil's arguments about the Tea Party with his prospective father-in-law to his frustration at the Expert In Everything friend to his vindication by the museum guide (played perfectly competently by Carla Bruni) who says that he's right and the other guy's annoying, the modern parts of the film hit all the necessary notes. And the historical sections were a terribly fun game of figuring out who was who and what was going on. Kathy Bates made an awesome Gertrude Stein, and Corey Stoll's portrayal of Hemingway was a highlight. And hey, Gil got to do what generations of readers have no doubt thought and just give Zelda Fitzgerald a Valium already. (Also worth mentioning: I'm not an Owen Wilson fan, but I actually liked him in this.)

The Bad: As described above, the moral of "make the life you want so you don't have to daydream about other lives" was frustratingly simplistic and didn't really get into any of the questions of art and happiness and mental illness that the selection of historical characters invited. And I was frustrated by the fact that there was absolutely no discussion of the time travel mechanism, and while I can go with "it's just fantasy" to some extent, there were still issues of internal consistency and of how easily Gil was passing unnoticed in his modern clothes and having Gertrude Stein reading his modern novel, etc. Whether Gil was changing the future by affecting the decisions of famous people in the past was not even mentioned.

The Verdict: If you like Woody Allen and/or cultural figures of the 1920s, this is probably worth Netflixing once it hits DVD. But I wouldn't necessarily bother seeing it in the theater - unless, of course, you need some air conditioning.

* A sign of a less-than-great movie: In retrospect, I could not remember a single character's name (other than the historical figures, of course) and had to look them up.

No comments:

Post a Comment