Monday, March 5, 2012

Catching up with 2011: Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is fantastical, whimsical yarn of magical realism that is his best comedic work since the criminally underrated Anything Else. The film’s tone is actually more akin to Everyone Says I love You, though, another underrated Allen film, as Own Wilson’s wide-eyed performance and amazement and just general agog nature is so infectious that even the most cynical of Allen fans would find something to admire in the film. Midnight in Paris is best when it deals with the past. Allen’s protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson channeling his inner Wood-man) is an appropriately lost person (he’s very much like Jay Gatsby in that regard) seeking solace in the magic of Paris under the lights (and preferably in the rain) considering the film places him among the most famous members of the Lost Generation. Stein, Hemingway, the Fitzgerald’s, et al slip in and out of the narrative giving the film its charming allure (especially for this lit major). The allusions to the Lost Generation, the music of Cole Porter, the flappers, the fashion, the way it’s all filmed in an nostalgic light…it all makes Midnight in Paris one of my favorite movies of 2011. The stuff set in the modern day with Gil’s fiancée (Rachel McAdams) is less affective, however, and a bit clunky (why are these two getting married exactly?), but it’s harmless enough, and Michael Sheen’s character – referred to as the “pedant” in the film, which I found funny because I know guys like that – provides enough laughs (albeit too easy considering this is a Woody Allen movie; he should be above resorting to jokes about Tea Party members) to keep it from sinking the film.

Every scene involving Gil and the crew from the ‘20s is rife with the kind of time-travel humor one expects from that kind of comedy and the usual Allen sprinklings of bon mot.  One of my very favorite scenes is when Gil explains where he’s from and the eras that he’s travelling between to both Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, and how Ned’s story doesn’t make the surrealists so much as flinch. There’s also a scene where Gil buys a book in French and has a tour guide read it to him in English on a bench; it’s a beautiful scene from the present day scenes that rivals the best scenes from the ‘20s. Also great (and really charming and beautiful) is Marion Cotillard as Adriana. She and Wilson have a really sweet scene at the end that is the catalyst for Gil’s epiphany. Cotillard’s smile, charm, and just general happiness, is as equally infectious as Wilson’s. Sweet and charming and obviously filmed by a man who loves Paris – those opening postcard images is one of my very favorite openings of any movie in 2011 – Midnight in Paris works because of its beautiful and nostalgic and magical scenes from 1920 and the way the film so effortlessly moves along and elicits laughs and smiles. I loved it.  


  1. Totally agreed, it's a wonderfully charming film even if the present-day scenes don't work and the easy Tea Party jokes are pretty cringe-worthy. But Cotillard and Wilson are great, the time travel stuff is fantastic - I laughed so hard at that quick gag with the private detective - and like you I adore that opening.

    And can I just say how nice it is to find another admirer of Anything Else, which is "criminally underrated" indeed?

  2. Midnight in Paris is undoubtedly a fun, charming & engaging watch, and as you aptly put it, perhaps Woody's best film in recent years. But, that said, this would remain, for me, a comparatively lesser Woody vis-a-vis his oeuvre and his best works.

    This is a light-hearted, nostalgic trip with nice humour, but a 180-degree flip when compared to the kind of wit and biting humour of his earlier works - whimsical as opposed to irreverent. I know its not fair to compare his recent releases to his earlier masterworks, especially given that he's possibly at the last leg of his filmmaking career, but a Woody fan can't help but hope for one last flash - a swansong.

    Anyway, as you excellently summed up, it sure is an enjoyable work as a standalone film - with Owen Wilson, as an obvious stand-in for Woody himself (though a far more mellowed version of him), providing a nice turn.

  3. Thanks, guys!

    Ed: I love Anything Else! I know it's often cited as lesser-Woody, but I think out of all of his 90s/00s output, it's right up near the top for me. One thing I appreciated about the film was just how effortlessly it reached through the screen and affected me. I know a lot of people are making the comparisons to Purple Rose of Cairo, but I liken it more to Everyone Says I Love You with its use of Paris and the importance that music plays in both films.

    It's funny, I didn't read your review until just now (thanks, by the way, for your continuous patronage of this blog!) because of your comment. We certainly do agree on a lot of the film's merits.


    I agree with you when you hold up the film to Woody's other films from the 70s and 80s. However, in light of his recent output (specifically things like Scoop, Cassandra's Dream, Whatever Works, Match Point and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) I think it stands as one of his best in over a decade...especially in regard to his comedies.

  4. Oh, that comment to you, Ed, is pretty awkwardly worded. What I meant to say was that I loved Anything Else, and then I was talking about Midnight in Paris. Oops. I missed a line break in there.