REVIEW: Midnight in Paris

6 06 2011

For devoted Woody Allen fans like myself, who will watch anything the insanely prolific writer/director puts his name on, watching him make virtually the same neurotic film over and over again is bearable.  For such fans, it’s a joy to watch Allen (or some other poor schmuck of a surrogate when he’s too old to play himself) bumble through life clinging on to his defeatist worldview.  For others, though, the filmmaker’s consistent nervous babbling has lost its charm and have thus tuned out Allen’s faithful annual output.

However, Allen has done something miraculous with his latest film, “Midnight in Paris.”  He has made a movie that satisfies both camps with wit, charm, and creativity.  It still has that burst of zany energy that the Allen faithful adore but tones down the nihilism so that the disenchanted or neophyte Allen fans can focus on the film’s ideas and not on their querulous complaints.  In other words, it’s a movie made to be seen outside the director’s normal niche audience but can still win that crowd over with its warmth and ingenuity.

Not to mention that many fans and foes alike have also been looking forward to Allen making a movie like “Midnight in Paris” for many years.  At 75, Allen is entering his sixth decade of filmmaking and has shown little indication of budging from the tenants of his philosophy, rarely subjecting them to challenges, criticism, or reproach.  But as he enters what are sure to be the twilight years of his film career, Allen hints in his latest film at a level of maturity we rarely see from the director.  He puts his views under a microscope in “Midnight in Paris” and analyzes their practicality in the modern world, ultimately producing some very interesting and unexpected conclusions.

Owen Wilson is tasked with playing the Woody Allen character in the film, a writer named Gil Pender who bears more similarities to Allen than his usual protagonists.  He’s a Hollywood screenwriter who has grown tired of churning out mediocre script after mediocre script and dreads having to take a crummy rewrite job for some extra cash.  His fiance Inez (the lovely Rachel McAdams) doesn’t see why he can’t suck up his pride and use his talents to sustain their prosperity, but Gil still can’t put aside his desire to leave cinema and become a novelist.  He hopes to find inspiration on a trip with Inez and her suspicious aristocratic parents to Paris, the city that inspired his literary heroes.

Rather than have Gil have a psychotic breakdown in the City of Light, Allen does something a little bit more unexpected and worlds more creative.  He transports Gil back into the Golden Age of art and culture in 1920s Paris when the clock strikes midnight by way of an enchanted antique car, placing him at speakeasies and festive parties with members of the Lost Generation and the expatriate community.  He meets Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dalí, Picasso, Porter, and Stein, awakening the Romantic spirit in Gil that wishes to return to what seems like a second Renaissance of ideas and art.

But he’s taken most of all by Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a woman of subtle but breathtaking beauty who has made the rounds among various artists.  She, not so unlike Gil, has needs and desires that she feels can’t be fulfilled by the society surrounding her.  Adriana’s tussling with society serves as a catalyst for Gil’s thinking, challenging him to question how he views the place of the past and the present in his life.

Allen tells this story not with the cautious optimism that often shields his pessimism from becoming too downbeat, but with hope, sincerity, and conviction.  It’s a movie that the American film community has waited for him to make for decades.  He dares to ask if maybe his nostalgia and cynicism are misplaced, and that fresh take on life combined with an inventive plot makes “Midnight in Paris” one of the best movies he’s made in a very long time.  A- / 


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8 responses

6 06 2011
Ripley

I loved Alison Pill. And how, for once, his intellectual whining didn’t annoy me.

7 06 2011
Sam Fragoso

Finally the film is coming to my area this weekend. Can’t wait. Love Woody Allen.

7 06 2011
Fitz

Maybe he will continue to use his newfound maturity. I hope at least.

8 06 2011
Marshall

Exactly, fingers crossed. His new movie should be interesting … can’t say I’ve seen much of Roberto Benigni since he jumped on the chair backs at the Oscars (maybe because I refused to see his take on Pinocchio.)

7 06 2011
David H. Schleicher

I think it’s clear this film is reaching beyond Woody’s niche audience with its box office returns. But I think it’s for a reason ever far simpler than what you have keenly outlined here – who doesn’t want to go to Paris? Allen’s depiction is postcard-perfect and after watching the film I felt like I had been there. His devoted fans will enjoy the ideas presented and the hopeless optimism (and really…I would argue he’s always been a bit of a misanthropic optimist as oxymoronic as that sounds) – but everyone will enjoy the dreamy charm of Paris…at midnight…in the rain…and with that great music playing. Great stuff.

Here’s my spin for what it’s worth:

http://theschleicherspin.com/2011/06/06/the-inception-of-woody-allen-2/

10 06 2011
Darren

Have to say, modern Woody Allen is very hit and miss. Still, I adore Paris and I get the sense that Woody’s love obsession with Europe might win me over in this case. (After all, wasn’t part of the appeal of Vicky Christina Barcelona was the setting.)

12 06 2011
Fitz

I think that may have been the only appeal of that film, but that could just be me.

12 06 2011
Steven Flores

I just saw the film early this morning as part of a double feature that was followed by “X-Men: First Class” (that was all right). Man, I fell in love with this film and I think it’s the best thing Woody has done, although it’s a big cliche`, since “Crimes & Misdemeanors”. I’m just bowled over by how good it was and everything else. Woody got his mojo back.

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