Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: "Midnight in Paris"

Midnight in Paris is not Woody Allen's best work and it borrows elements from at least three of his more celebrated films, yet it comes together and forms a delightful package. There is a character who is reminiscent of Alan Alda's character in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and a scene that brings back fond memories of Everyone Says I Love You (1996), but it is the theme of surreality that draws the most comparisons to the underrated The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). I questioned the film's poster before seeing the film, and I will apologize for it. It does a fantastic job representing the surreal quality within. I will not, however, retract my criticisms of Owen Wilson. There is something common about his presence on screen and it does not reflect the traditionally neurotic Allen archetype, but he does a better than decent job in his role. We have all come to know that is the supporting roles in a Woody Allen film that are the juiciest, and our actors do not disappoint. Marion Cotillard shines in a role that showcases her bilingualism, much like Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). I only wish that the film has focused a little more on Rachel McAdams in order to flesh out her character, which seemed too one dimensional. Woody Allen has made many films with New York City as a main character, and Paris receives the same treatment in Midnight in Paris. Having been to Paris many times, I can attest to its magic and the film frames the city beautifully. It is a city ripe for discovery. There is a revelation at the end of the film that I found to be very profound and I was impressed with how Allen and his characters achieved this so naturally. Woody Allen still has a few tricks up his sleeves and Midnight in Paris is an inspired film. Even with all its magic and mystery, it is a well plotted and well conceived film that does not fall into the trap of being too contrived or too campy.

Gil Pender (Wilson) has traveled to Paris with his fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, but he is extremely dissatisfied with his job and is in the midst of writing a novel. He gets little support from Inez, who wants to live in Hollywood and spend his money. Gil is very drawn to the City of Lights and the Parisian lifestyle, but has visions of living in Paris during the 1920s with his idols. Gil and Inez differ on every major issue and their incomparability is further highlighted when they run into an old college friend of Inez', Paul (Michael Sheen), who is cultured and academic. Inez immediately falls for Paul's charms and Gil begins to feel like an outcast. One night, while balking at a night of dancing, Gil finds himself wandering the streets of Paris alone and at the stroke of midnight an old Peugeot taxicab pulls up alongside him and he gets in. He ends up in the company of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Allison Pill and Tom Hiddleston) at a party and eventually meets Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll). He can barely believe that he has been transported back to the 1920s. His behaviour alarms Inez and her parents, but the next night he tries unsuccessfully to bring Inez back in time with him. Gil then meets Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), who helps to give feedback on his writing, and Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), but it is Picasso's mistress Adriana (Cotillard) who catches his eye. Gil finds himself falling in love with the past, and as his relationship with Adriana blossoms, his relationship with Inez begins to suffer.

As I further analyze Midnight in Paris in my head, I see another direct comparison to yet another Woody Allen film: the under-appreciated Deconstructing Harry (1997) about an author who is visited by his own characters. While watching this most recent film, I am unsure about whether or not Gil's trip to the past was real or if it was a figment of his imagination. I see no conclusive proof in the film that he was actually able to travel back to Paris in the 1920s. As with many of his films, Allen has a penchant for looking at the past. He has achieved something special with Midnight in Paris, something that I have not seen in most of his recent efforts. There is a complete story arc with honest character development. I will say, however, that Midnight in Paris is not as emotionally rich as my favourite Woody Allen films. It is much softer and sweeter without a great deal of focus on the inner complexities of the human psyche. Paris is a perfect city for Woody Allen to use to explore ideas of romance and nostalgia. He paints the city so beautifully, as he did so effortlessly to New York in Manhattan (1979), that the film often feels like a travelogue. But it does have a great story of self discovery with some great performances, including Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, and Carla Bruni as a tour guide. Bruni, known the world over as the wife of French president Nicolas Sarkzoy, does an adequate job in a role that demands very little. Midnight in Paris is a great film because it is understated and has a great screenplay and skilled direction. We should be lucky that Woody Allen is still working and able to produce such a quality film. It has all everything a true Woody Allen fan looks for, but its minimalist approach has the ability to attract a wider audience.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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