Sunday, July 3, 2011

Midnight in Paris - Movie Review


As much as I hate to admit it - I am a real failure of a film student sometimes - this is only the third Woody Allen movie I have seen. I saw Everybody Says I Love You years ago, and have been sad ever since that it is out of print, it is quite delightful. Hannah and Her Sisters is equally good, though truly depressing. Midnight in Paris, while still undoubtedly a Woody Allen movie, is very different from both.

It is also very different from the trailer. Previews showed the film to be typical Allen fare: a quirky, romantic comedy set in a bohemian city with a sweet but awkward man as the protagonist. Owen Wilson wanders the streets of Paris at night and gets into mischief. Lovely, but not enough to make me go see it. I'm glad I heard good things about the movie from my friends (thanks Jocelyn!) because I loved it.

Yes, Owen Wilson does wander the streets of Paris at night and gets into mischief, but what the trailer gives no hint of, and which is the point of the whole movie, he is time traveling. Owen Wilson's character, Gil, lives in a perpetual state of nostalgia, wishing more than anything that he lives in Paris in the 1920s. His fiance and her parents are visiting the city, and he is having far more fun than the rest of them in the city of his dreams. After a long night of wine tasting he gets lost and is picked up by a group of revelers in an antique car, just as the clock strikes midnight. These revelers happen to include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Ernest Hemingway. As my fiance Dave said, "wow, that's a lot more interesting!"

As with all Woody Allen movies it is the acting that draws you in more than the plot, at least at first. Wilson plays Gil as a sweet but lost young man, so in love with the idea of being in love that he can't see that his fiancee is a witch. Rachel McAdams, usually so delightful, is an absolute harridan in Midnight in Paris. She treats her fiance like a project, something to be fixed and displayed for viewing, and she seems to relish the opportunity to publicly humiliate him. She is the kind of woman who should raise show dogs rather than children. Her mother, played by the wonderful Mimi Kennedy, is no doubt the source of much of her behavior - this woman's favorite and much used catchphrase, "cheap is cheap", is used to describe everything from furniture to Gil himself. The father, Kurt Fuller, is an image of what Gil will become if he is trapped in this family forever - downtrodden but vile in his own right. Possibly my favorite of the modern day people is Paul, the extremely underrated Michael Sheen. Paul knows everything, and likes telling this to everyone else. The few times Gil rises to the bait are both very real and very funny.

Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, the young French woman that Gil meets in the 1920s. This woman has incredible range, and must be given more work. Anyone who saw her in Inception knows that she can be both sweet and sexy and also horrifyingly psychotic. We see her sweet and sexy side only in this, but we still have the feeling that she wouldn't hesitate to kill someone if she found it necessary. Kathy Bates is a harsh but kind Gertrude Stein and Alison Pill is a charming but very disturbed Zelda Fitzgerald.

My favorite 20s character, and possibly my favorite of the entire movie, is Corey Stoll's Ernest Hemingway. He is a creepy womanizer who speaks in full paragraphs of run-on sentences, which I guess is far more funny if you have actually read his work. Our first introduction to this is almost the first thing he says; when Gil states that he loves Hemingway's work his response is "Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble, but brave." All this uttered in one breath accompanied with a blank stare that gives you the impression not all of him left the trenches of WWI.

The movie is essentially about self discovery and the idea that your ideal place and time is not what you want it to be, but what you make it. Living in a fantasy is all right for a while, but in the end it becomes too problematic. Better to find love and happiness where you belong than chase a dream you can never have.

1 comment:

  1. Stoll's Hemingway was my favorite character...completely addled. I loved the bit: "I won't read your book. It will either be bad and I will hate it or it will be good and I will hate it more..." or something to that effect.