Midnight in Paris (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Midnight in Paris reminds me of a scene in a documentary made a decade ago called Cinemania. The movie is about a gaggle of cinephiles who live off disability or other means and spend their spare time seeing every movie in theaters that they can. One man sheepishly admits he'd actually managed to save up enough to go on a trip to Paris just so he could sit in a cafe. He seems down on the experience: it wasn't nearly as thrilling as the movies made it look.

Midnight in Paris takes a similar tact in its ideals. Reliving the experiences of others is fun when vicarious, but disappointing when the reality emerges. With that in mind, it's hard not to notice that it's a concept that outright teases its audience, as anyone who's paying to see a Woody Allen film nowadays is probably not doing it on the strength of Whatever Works .

Sorry the screen caps are crap, the trailer tries to keep most of the plot under wraps, and god knows we don't need more pictures of Owen Wilson in this world.

The main character of the film is Gil (Owen Wilson), a writer who yearns to leave modern Paris and return to vibrant art scene of the 20's. Through chance and a bit of magical realism, he gets picked up by a taxi that ends up dropping him off at a bar where he stumbles upon Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway among others. Torn between living one of his greatest dreams, and his 2010 present where he must dote on his disaffected fiance Ines (Rachel McAdams), Gil struggles to discover where he really belongs.

Delving too much into the plot of the film is tricky, since it's a fairly simple plot. Allen has certainly been down a similar road before in films like New York Stories and Shadows and Fog, though, in comparison to his other works, this one reminds me mostly of Everyone Says I Love You. Both films take a particularly romantic tact of ideas and play with them earnestly.

Strangely, I think both films also share the same flaw, as Allen has managed to shoehorn in once again some broad caricatures of Republicans. While I can respect Allen's incredulity towards cultural cretins like these who similarly regard their own affairs as necessary and anyone else's as a grave offense, it feels tacked on and useless towards building the film's themes. "Meanwhile, there are people who don't like Paris!" Allen seems to exclaim during these scenes. "What the hell is their problem?!"

Anyone (ANYONE) watching this film is already sold on Paris's charms before the opening credits even start, as Allen takes the audience on a day trip through the city's landmarks. The city is doted upon lovingly here, and oftentimes I was reminded of Jeunet's Amelie in terms of the way it treats the city as a vibrant, eclectic character. This continues as Wilson takes his walks into the past, revealing a world that's evolved and changed but whose beauty and values continue to live on.

In the past we get to meet a series of Jazz Age luminaries, from T.S. Elliot to Salvidor Dali, and your appreciation for this will mostly rest on your knowledge of that era. At times, Midnight in Paris serves as a sort of Lost Generation fan fiction, but Allen wisely peppers in some more overt humor to tide over the audience who may not understand why Djuna Barnes leading during a dance is hilarious. I know I cracked up once Gil started pitching Luis Bunuel a film which resulted in Bunuel having a similar reaction as Bunuel ended up getting from most of his audiences.

Wilson helps here, as his wide eyed innocence, used to great effect in Bottle Rocket, gets a good workout. Most of the other cast is excellent as well, and some of the celebrities throwing in with cameos, including Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody, have a lot of fun with their parts. Of the characters from the past, Hemmingway is the most charming since hearing the actor Corey Stoll toss out Hemmingway's unbelievable machismo-fueled worldview with a serious face is, in an unsophisticated phrasing, a hoot.

Also, Marion Cotillaird is here, and who can blame her.

It feels obvious that a lot of this film is Allen exorcising his own demons of nostalgia, and, from that, he creates a tantalizing catharsis for the audience. There's no deeper message here besides the pleasures of art and women, but Allen wisely adds Paris to the mix to create his best film in several years. It's not an unqualified success, but, underneath, it's a deeply sweet tale of the difference between reading great literature and understanding it.

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Posted by Danny

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