Midnight in Paris (review) (4/5)
James WF Roberts
Okay, yes I can admit it. I feel embarrassed and ashamed but I can honestly admit it. I am not really a fan of Woody Allen. I guess I have been influenced too much by my limited understanding of the man, the artist, the philosopher—and all the shadows that lingered around him in the early 1990s and his relationship with Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter (with Conductor Andre Previn)Soon-Yi Previn. I am not going to weigh into the debate about whether he is immoral or a child-molester or anything like that, at this stage. I am not really qualified to talk about such things. I have seen a lot of Woody Allen films over the years, I love the honesty about relationships in his writing. I love his writing of women. And, I have always enjoyed the deliberateness of his work. The breaking of the fourth wall and so on.
Actually that moment in Annie Hall where they are in bed together and their minds, their imaginations float out of their bodies and begin to converse I think is one of the most magical moments in cinema of the last forty years. It is an interesting juxtaposition of ideas the masculine woman and the feminine man; very Freudian. .
But, I must admit I have never been fan of his comedic talents on film. Watching old footage of Woody Allen on the Tonight Show, or just even doing his standup bits, I have found to be funnier than a lot of his great comedies of his early oeuvre. I just never understood them, nor did I really appreciate them as much as I should have. However, that being said as I have gotten older I find myself enjoying Allen’s movies a lot more than I used to. I guess I appreciate subtly and style and the whole aesthetic auterism that Allen brings to his work these days. An extremely close friend of mine got me to watch Midnight in Paris on the weekend, with her. I have to say I was really, really blown away by this film.
For ‘Midnight in Paris’, Allen again is writing a love letter to another magical city. Much like he has done for years with his obsession with New York and in particular, Manhattan.
The movie opens with an adoring montage, set to jazz, of the city by day and night. As in so many of Allen’s films, our troubled hero is a writer: Gil (Wilson, who adopts the classic slacks-and-check-shirt Woody look) is on holiday in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her rich, conservative parents.
While Inez prefers the company of her folks or her friends, Paul (Michael Sheen), a preening academic, and his wife, Carol (Nina Arianda), Gil is struggling to complete a book he hopes will mark his crossover from Hollywood hack to novelist and wanders the street by night looking for inspiration.
Bored with the whole run-of-the-mill life in Parisian boutiques Gil Pender wanders off. Sitting on cobble stone steps trying to find his voice. Trying to understand the truth behind the immensity of his problem—all our problems seem so much worse at midnight in a strange place. Like clockwork a 1920’s Peugeot pulls along side, the occupants calling him inside…and off he goes caroulled into skipping the light fantastic with the whom he thinks are look-a-likes of Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). This call to adventure begins the film-proper of a traditional Heroes journey that is occupying this story. All the archetypal characters are on display, inside the traditional Quest for the elixir-style legend on display.
There is a tone to this film that is very subtle. The ennui of the Lost Generation is slowly creeping around Pender’s relationship with his socialite fiancée and WASP-Republican/Tea party parents. The fin de siècle symbols are being played with right up to the hilt. It is hard to think of Woody Allen as an American film-maker in many ways, especially as he gets older. His probing philosophical and psycho-analytical meanderings of much of his latest work seem to have some sort of resolution here. The longer the movie goes on the deeper the conflict of the dramedy widens. Wilson’s writer is on a journey of self-discovery but the is the truth he discovers about himself and his relationship an absolute truth or merely just a personal truth? And has he created the whole situation out of his despair and the realities he does not want to face up to?
Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux offer more relaxed, sophisticated and passive alternative options for Gil’s clearly unfulfilled romantic intentions. Carla Bruni is cast in a subdued role as a bemused tour-guide rather nonplussed about the arrogance of Michael Sheen’s Paul the typical academic character we instantly can recognize.
It seems quite fitting that the Wilson’s writer is so openly lost. The artists, writers and creative thinkers of the Lost Generation he meets on his nightly adventures are just as equally lost, but they are aware of their transitions more so than I think Wilson’s character can fully allow himself to be. This is one of the most honest Allen movies for a very long time.
It fits into the canon of his work extremely well, as I would wager that every character in Allen’s canon are all lost—lost in relationships, lost in dead-end lifestyles, trapped in an artistic crisis, we are talking Woody Allen here so by and large the material is quite familiar to us all. This movie was a bit of a fan-boy geek-asm for me. TS Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Pablo Picaso, Salvador Dali many of these thinkers have been influences on my writing and my views on art and relationships, especially Eliot and Dali.
But there are things bubbling under the surface of all the characters. The family Wilson’s writer is marrying into are lost in a decadent and Laissez-faire almost upper- bourgeois lifestyle of bemoaning France is full of foreigners, their orgiastic glee in buying pieces of furniture well over $20,000.
Rachel McAdams is always a joy to watch on camera. Her usual beaming intelligence shining in her eyes changes in this movie and her portrayal as the shallow, All American-WASP is an extremely authentic one. Again Allen utilizes a naturalistic tone for this movie, using character actors who can build charisma even if they are playing a manipulative, consumerist bitch, like McAdams is playing here.
The romanticized artists from the roaring twenties are themselves, all lost from their own realities and we don’t really see their true personalities, rather our perceived ideas of their personalities. Ernest Hemingway was known as the Beast—the Monster for a reason. Cole Porter was hiding in Paris from his own truth, in America he was lost, in Paris he found his own truth about his sexuality and his true feelings.
Allen is obsessed with Jazz and Standards as we all know…Every time I listen to Rhapsody in Blue all I can see in my head is the black and white footage of Manhattan. Allen uses Parisian club music, 1920′s pop-culture, jazz standards and the timing of a musician to deliver a really enjoyable and thought provoking taste for the senses.
I was hooked on this film from the outset. Owen Wilson and Michael Sheen are playing Woody Allen. Allen has cut his personalities from his ‘self’ and put them on the screen for all of us to dissect. Sheen is the arrogant, aggressive, take no-prisoners, over the top know-it-all Academic…I remember mentioning to my companion I was watching this with that, ‘God you just want to punch him’; and my friend just replied “You mean because that is how you and I would act?” And Wilson is a softer incarnation of the self-loathing, neurotic, lost artist trapped in the Hollywood system. I didn’t want to spoil too much of this movie by giving away too much of the plot, but there is a nice resolution to this movie that you don’t often find in an Allen film especially when dealing with a somewhat self-indulgent character as Gil Pender…but all in all this is a film about trying to find ones own truth. Is the grass always greener on the other side?
Everyone’s searching for something….everyone thinks that a Golden Age is always better than the present. It’s not up to you to say your age is golden that is what history books are for…One man’s golden age is another man’s bronze.
However it must be said that at time one almost gets the feeling that Owen Wilson is doing his best rendition—impersonation of a mid-western Woody Allen. The running time is shorter than you would expect and there some aspects of the film that are bit too light the artistic pursuits of the Artist’s Muse—and the feud between Hemingway and Stein is never really looked at.
He does try to get the fiancé in on the adventure but the focus pulls away from too quickly, it would have been really interesting to see what her Golden Age of Paris would have been…I am guessing from her characterisation it would have been Marie Antoinette’s court or something in the Versailles palace… but herein lies the problem with Allen films in general artsy and quirky and down-trodden asexual characters he does very well.
Lustful and drug addled poets he does quite well but the average person on the street or even the average WASP born into privilege Allen seems to struggle with in his writings and his realizations of them.
I know I am going on off a few other tangents in this post, but lots of ideas are bubbling away in me right now…I keep thinking of the Freudian worldview Allen keeps projecting in his movies. The women in most of his later works seem rather clichéd and at times some of the actors are forcing themselves into sincerity. Looking back on this film I wonder if Allen is trying to write about himself in more ways than he usually does….
Sheen and Wilson seem to obviously be interchangeable as the Id and the Ego of Allen’s personae….but it’s the premise…the 1920s the Lost Generation in Paris seems more fitting of a man in his mid-thirties in the 1970s, rather than the 1920s.
This movie has an extremely romantic view of its mis en scene. The characters that Pender interact with are from the point of view of a fan of the Lost Generation…not someone who wants to see Hemingway in his natural mood, miserable, violent and drunk. I would love to see a contemporary feminist reading of this film. It would be very insightful. The film is an enjoyable romp and at just under 100 minutes long, the suspension of disbelief lasts just long enough for you to feel a little glow and a bit melancholy at the end. A maudlin Rom-Com is an usual thing these days I guess. I did like this movie but I always feel like most Woody Allen films, since Annie Hall, have just been a footnote to Annie Hall. There is a bitter-sweetness to this movie and a rather hopeful resolution that makes the journey worth it at the end I think.