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Midnight in Paris (2011)

July 24, 2011

written by: Woody Allen

produced by: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenebaum, & Juame Roures

directed by: Woody Allen

rated PG-13 (for some sexual references and smoking) 

100 min.

U.S. release date: May 20, 2011

It would be quite a challenge to think of a recent American film that showcased the visual splendors of the City of Lights like “Midnight in Paris” does. Just as writer/director Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” was an ode to the Big Apple, his 46th film finds him writing a love letter to Paris. Like that 1979 film, this too could’ve simply been called “Paris”, but there’s a very good reason it’s called what it is.  Although Allen is synonymous with New York, he has made it known with his recent films that he’s quite fond of Europe, especially within the past six or so years. While it is delightful to see a director celebrate a city steeped in historic culture, it’s unfortunate to see Allen recycle himself here. He does inject an initially charming fantasy element to the rom com genre, but it just doesn’t hold up in the end.

To get the most out of it, it’s best to know absolutely nothing about “Midnight in Paris”, other than it’s a Woody Allen film. If you’ve been following Allen’s films, you’ll know that if he’s not the protagonist, than he writes another actor to play the role that he would’ve played. No really, check this out: both Jason Biggs and Scarlett Johansson have played Woody Allen in Allen’s films. It helps if the actor can play neurotic and insecure, Now, it’s Owen Wilson’s turn and he does a fine job playing Owen Wilson playing Woody Allen. 

Alright, that was a little sarcasm there, but I can’t help it. I’m no Woody Allen cinephile. I haven’t seen all of his films, and I can’t see myself rushing to rectify that. While I understand and appreciate the impact the man has had in film, I find his recycling ways lazy, tiresome, and boring. But, obviously, since I saw this film, I try to keep on open mind. So, what we have is some of the same here, with a touch of whimsical fantasy. That’s why, thankfully, “Midnight in Paris” is somewhat different for Allen, but unfortunately not different (and original) enough. 

Now, to expand on all that, I must travel into spoiler territory. There you have it. Consider yourself warned. 

Engaged Americans, Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), are vacationing in Paris with her parents, who are there for business. Having made money churning out interchangeableHollywood screenplays, the frustrated Gil struggles to finish his first novel. It’s a story about a guy who opens up an nostalgia shop called “Out of the Past”, appropriately named, since Gil is a man who feels born at the wrong time, idealizing the creatively rich history of the city he loves. 

Unfortunately, he’s stuck in a loveless relationship with a nagging woman who would rather listen to her pretentious blowhard friend, Paul (a delightful Michael Sheen), brag about what he supposedly knows about Paris, then spend time making memories with Gil. After declining an invite to go dancing with Inez and Paul one night, Gil finds himself wandering the city’s quaint streets longing for those grand old days, when poets, artists and musicians, could be found enjoying life at every turn.

Gil soon gets what he longs for when a group of frolickers pull up in an old Puegot just after midnight and invite him to a party. The party feels like a throwback to old Paris in every way, from the clothes to the music to the conversation, it all feels like the 1920s….that’s because it is! 
That’s right, much to Gil’s gaping-mouthed amazement, that’s Cole Porter (Yves Heck) playing piano over there and look who’s introducing themselves, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill, both splendid), in the flesh! Next thing we know, Gil encounters an array of his artistic idols, like Ernest Hemingway (a jovial and stoic Corey Stoll) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates, bland and boring), even Salvador Dali (an annoying Adrien Brody) and Luis Bunel (Adrien de Van) show up. To say such an atmosphere leaves Gil overwhelmed is a gross understatement. 

He manages to repeat this mysterious anomaly, sneaking away at night (much to the befuddlement of Inez’s annoying parents) to catch his midnight magic ride. Unlike his disappointing day life, Gil is accepted, understood, and appreciated here, especially by Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is apparently (and understandably) everyone’s muse. Through a variety of conversations with these luminaries, Gil becomes inspired and motivated to move forward with his novel, while reassessing his future with Inez. 

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Marion Cotillard

As I mentioned, the opening of “Midnight in Paris” is probably one of the best film openings I’ve seen all year. Just seeing the picturesque scenes of Paris in night and day, in bright sunlight and dancing rain, it almost makes me want to book a flight. If only the characters Allen gives us could compliment such captivating visuals.

Although this is fast becoming one of Allen’s most well-received films in recent years, it appears I am in the minority here. I found much of the acting and the characters to be repetitious, one-note, and quite boring. Granted, Wilson doesn’t give in to full-on Allen neurosis, but he does go on and on with whining the “woes me” and the “aw shucks”, which made me more interested in anyone other than Gil. Not a good situation to be in, seeing as how he’s the central character, and the only other interesting character is played by Sheen, a know-it-all who is hilariously entertaining. Allen fails to give anything redeeming or likable for the usually endearing McAdams to work with. I get what he was going for with her, but we have to at least see some redeeming quality in her, in order for us to feel some type of internal struggle with Gil. As it is, I would’ve kicked her to the curb in a heartbeat.  I’m all for seeing actors play against type, but it’s hard to care about the relationship Gil and Inez are in when you want to see them separate the moment you meet them.

As for the time travel element, I almost would’ve preferred that the movie take place entirely in the 20s. The characters are certainly much more interesting and we could’ve spent more time with these legends. The problem is, Allen mostly gives us Cliff Notes versions of these characters. It would’ve been much more interesting if Allen wrote these icons as real people instead of such broadly-stroked caricatures, but at least some actors rise above it all. While the environment of the era seems earnest and authentic, I still couldn’t get behind the silliness of Brody shouting, “Dali! Dali! Dali!” 

 I guess I just couldn’t get into the whimsy of it all, and just couldn’t readily give into it all with the same gee whiz that Wilson does. I especially couldn’t comprehend where Gil thought a romance with Adriana would go, when they are in two different time zones. I understand what Allen is getting at: one should be content, and do the most with where one is at in life. Not dwelling on the past (or longing for other eras in this case) , but discovering and embracing the possibilities around oneself.

Sure, I get that poignant theme, but it seems mired in so much comedic schtick, that it all just falls apart for me in the end. I can see why audiences love it though, as it is a vast improvement on the typical rom com garbage they usually get, heck, it’s even better than most current allen films. Ultimately, “Midnight in Paris” is a nice enough film to visit, but unlike Gil, I don’t desire any repeat visits.

RATING: **1/2

8 Comments leave one →
  1. windi noel permalink
    July 25, 2011 8:46 am

    I’ve seen a few previews and while it seemed cute enough, definitely not my style of movie. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Woody Allen movie all the way through. The couple I have attempted to watch, I didn’t finish. I didn’t realize that this was a Woody Allen movie, but it doesn’t surprise me at all.

    I did get a giggle out of your description of Wilson playing Allen well. It seemed to me he was playing Wilson well in the previews. I like him well enough, but I’ve grown kind of tired of his style. It was very endearing in the first few movies he did, but he seems to be stuck only playing one certain type of character, kind of like that British guy….oh, what’s his name?…..Hugh Grant, that’s him.

    Also, I’ve always found it hard to believe a movie about 2 characters who are engaged or think they are in love and it’s so clearly obvious that they shouldn’t be, and they make the other character so mean-spirited, or callous, or distant, or stupid that you end up wondering what is wrong with the protagonist that they haven’t dumped the other person ages ago… it just seems like the writers think the audience is so stupid that we have to have the obvious shoved in our faces.

    I guess I’ll happily be letting this movie pass me on by. There are plenty of other better movies to be seen! 🙂

  2. February 3, 2012 2:54 am

    I completely agree with this review! I have seen most of Woody Allen’s films and I do appreciate his work. That many people are saying that this one ranks up there with his best – I don’t see it. He’s probably got 10 or so REALLY GOOD films and another 10 PRETTY GOOD ones. The other 20 something are all DECENT. Maybe, this one belongs in the “pretty good” category. Maybe not even.

    I didn’t love it for all the reasons that David didn’t love it.

    Having said that though, I’m glad I watched it. Alison Pill (Zelda Fitzgerald), Michael Sheen (Paul), and Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway) all lit up the screen. I also liked the opening scene with shots of Paris – though it was the romanticized Paris and it reminded me how much I like the Paris we see in many French movies. I think Allen intended for us to see THAT Paris, though. It works, theme-wise. I did appreciate the theme, and did like *SPOILER* that Wilson’s character got to keep some of his romantic notions while leaving other ones behind.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      February 3, 2012 9:31 am

      Maybe an actor other than Wilson playing a character other than Allen would’ve made something more interesting for me – but alas, those who feel the way I do about this well-received movie are in the minority. I’ll take Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in Paris” instead!


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