Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Midnight in Paris

 To set mood: Push play, and start reading.

Gil is a self-proclaimed Hollywood hack who never took his chances with anything. He writes movie scripts and wishes he'd tried novels first. He lives in California and wishes he'd given Paris a shot. He also wishes he lived during "the Golden Age" -- the 20's, but that's not his fault. He's engaged to Inez, who is beautiful, and can be charming, but never seems to be while around him. Maybe she's just annoyed with him currently; they're in Paris for her dad's business, and he's talking about staying permanently; he's trying his hand at a novel, faltering, and stubbornly refuses help or advice, and he keeps mentioning how amazing Paris must have been in the 20's... in the rain. What's up with that?

"What's wonderful about getting wet?"

Gil is certainly a romantic. Longing for a time when he considered everything to be better -- and who could argue with the 20's in rainy Paris? Paris is still beautiful in the 21st century of course, so when faced with the decision of wandering the streets by himself at night, or spending another couple hours tagging along with Inez, and her friends Paul and Carol who they met by chance earlier, the answer is easy, and the answer is "alone."

A little while later, he's lost and sitting on some steps somewhere, watching the city, listening to the clock strike midnight. A vintage car pulls up. Heavily accented people call him to hop in, then he's at a party. The guy playing Cole Porter at the piano actually looks like Cole Porter. That's not possible. A feisty American lady introduces herself as Zelda, and then calls over her husband, Scott. Fitzgerald. Gotta be a coincidence.

The Fitzgeralds!

No, Gil Pender has somehow time-traveled, and that was just the beginning of his experience in that allegedly perfect time that is 1920's Paris. He muddles through the day with Inez and her increasingly annoying friends in 2011, then spends his nights living it up in the 20's with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, and a breathtaking French girl, Adriana.

Adriana and Gil at a surrealist's wedding. Hence the taxidermy birds. ...That makes sense, right?

This little Woody Allen film starts out with various lovely, saturated shots of Paris slowly progressing day to night as a soprano sax belts out a jazzy tune. An easy, effortless artistic feel flows from there through the rest of the movie. None of the shots look really "composed," but if you pay attention, you begin to appreciate the scenes composed of a single shot, drawn out over several minutes as characters walk about and interact with each other realistically; competing to get a word in, and having to make an effort to express themselves intelligently.

And who exactly is in this movie? Everyone. Okay, maybe not, but it certainly does seem like it at times. Owen Wilson is our protagonist Gil, and is his usual charming, goofy, funny self. Rachel McAdams is Inez, and is great at being, well, dis-likable (to put it nicely), but you can see her appeal as well. Michael Sheen is Inez's "pedantic" friend Paul, perfectly described with one word. Then there's the crazy coroner Woody from Psych, Kurt Fuller, being normal as Inez's dad, and the assassin girl from MI4, Lea Seydoux, playing a local girl.

Paul, Carol, Inez and Gil touring Paris. Paul serves as tour guide, and says "if I'm not mistaken" a lot.

In the 20's side, the ever-lovely Marion Cotillard is the equally lovely and sweet Adriana. When Gil says she has "one of the most interesting faces ever" I couldn't agree more. Adrien Brody gets a single, memorable scene as Salvador Dali. Kathy Bates plays Gertrude Stein. Corey Stoll is Ernest Hemingway, and this movie's scene-stealer, which is really saying something when there's also Tom Hiddleston there, playing F. Scott Fitzgerald with a great "20's American" accent, and his classic, but (as of then) not-quite-yet discovered charm.

Gil, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein examine Picasso's latest painting.

I must briefly mention a kind of technical aspect here. The film is rated PG-13 for "some sexual references and smoking." As to the smoking, I just wonder why they don't mention all the drinking as well, but the sexual references are scattered around the film, and are not especially crude like some PG-13's can easily be, but are inappropriate enough to warrant a warning.

Loose morals abound just as you'd expect from the 20's and 2000's, but the moral of the film goes in a much different direction.

First we are drawn in with simple, delightful appeal, to fall in love with a place we've perhaps never been to, and feel nostalgia for a time we never experienced. It's easier than it seems; I don't get all the references to the time, and I don't know all the famous people of the 20's introduced or mentioned, but when nostalgia is this contagious, it doesn't make a difference. I think Woody Allen could make me nostalgic for last week if he presented it like this.

Because I really, really like this still.

Midnight in Paris is pleasingly sentimental and nostalgic. But instead of ending there and letting us wallow in our new-found disappointment of having to live in the here and now, it says it doesn't matter; everyone wishes their lot was different. Paris is still here, so if you want to live there, go. If you want to write a novel, take the risk and try it. Walk in the rain if you can appreciate it. It encourages us to love the past if we want, but to live in the present.

And then, when paired with the easy artistic delivery and cute wry humor, it becomes much, much more than a typical comedy. Instead of cheap jokes and meaningless romance, you actually get to think while watching. And sure it doesn't go as deep as some serious thinking movies, but that's not bad -- it simply doesn't presume to be anything it's not, and doesn't take itself too seriously. Because what it is, is plenty good; lighthearted, fun, genuinely charming... like a walk through Paris in the rain.

-- 4.5/5 stars
Old-Fashioned Charm
My sixth review for this!

Bonus -- because I can't resist. Tom Hiddleston is being interviewed for The Avengers and Midnight in Paris, and does the most perfect Owen Wilson impression. (Start at 3:55 to avoid The Avengers part, which is mostly the smitten host flirting awkwardly anyway.)


  1. I really liked this movie too! Especially Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald and Corey Stoll as Hemingway. I liked it better than any other Woody Allen movie I've seen (which isn't that many, but anyway), and I would gladly watch it again some time.

    Loved the interview! Thanks for sharing :-) (But... skip the Avengers parts? Why in the world would someone want to do that?)

    1. Yes, actually, I believe I can credit Hiddleston's performance as Fitzgerald as the final push of interest that got me to read The Great Gatsby for the first time. Now of course I love it for its own merit.

      You're welcome! Oh I said that because my point for including it was only for the Midnight in Paris part... I can't imagine why anyone would really want to skip it. ;)

  2. Didn't love this one. For whatever reason, it wasn't my cup of tea. Sad really since it had a nice cast.

    1. That's too bad! I can certainly understand why it might not be someone's cup of tea, but are there any particular reasons why it's not for you? Yeah, I love the cast.