Thursday, July 14, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris opens with Woody Allen’s traditional jazz score atop many static shots of Paris. We see the famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, it is morning, it is sunny, it rains, it is night, the streets are bare and the streets are bustling with life as people populate the city. They are the most serious and solemn shots in the film as they evoke the realization that although these people live now, they will all eventually fade away. The realization from this is that, as they pass and a new population comes and goes, Paris will always live, rich in it’s history, always breathing and growing. Life is short but Paris is eternal.

It’s that quality which maybe most attracts young and middle aged men to Paris in order to ditch everything, take up residence there and discover themselves through the creation of great art and literature. It’s about making oneself a peasant for one last crack at attempting something meaningful. Art may be made from suffering but it is also made from freedom. Henry Miller described it best in his opening of The Tropic of Cancer as he haunts the streets of Paris: “I have no money, to resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

Midnight in Paris is thus three love letters rolled into one. It is a love letter to Paris, a love letter to writing and a love letter to the past. It’s a tale of whimsy without being too whimsical. It’s Allen’s most lovely film in years.

The film revolves around Gil (Owen Wilson playing the Woody Allen surrogate), a Hollywood script writer who has escaped to Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) in the hopes of leaving behind the creation of meaningless entertainment and crossing over into grand literature through the writing of his novel. Gil is in love with the idea of Paris, thinks it is even more beautiful in the rain and longs for the glory days of the 20s when the city was alive with great art, literature, music, what have you.

His novel, not appreciated by Inez or anyone else he describes it to, is about a man who runs his own nostalgia shop, selling meaningful items from the golden age of entertainment which have now, in the present, been reduced to no more than worthless camp articles.

There he meets Inez’s old friend Paul (Michael Sheen). Paul represents one of Allen’s favourite targets: a pedantic pseudo-intellectual who belivies himself to know everything about art and culture to the point where he will argue his point over that of the tour guide. One night, not wanting to go dancing and having sampled too much wine, Gil goes for a walk by himself around Paris. He rests on a stoop and as the clock strikes twelve a vintage car pulls around and tells him to get in.

He is escorted to a party where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Yes, that Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They explain to him that some people have come together to throw a party for Jean Cocteau. And is that Cole Porter on the piano? Gil thinks someone is pulling his leg until the Fitzgerald’s, finding out that Gil is a writer, invite him to meet Ernest Hemmingway, who doesn’t want to read his book but will indeed take it to Gertrude Stein for a once over. Gil, overjoyed, goes to retrieve the manuscript but finds that, upon leaving, the glorious 20s party has morphed back into a standard dry cleaners.

And so every night Gil finds an excuse to sneak away so that, when the clock strikes midnight, he will be picked up and taken away to the 1920s. While there he meets Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray and Picasso who is currently dating Adriana (Marian Cotillard), a French beauty who quickly becomes the star in Gil’s eye. She is initially taken by passages of his novel and dreams of getting out of the dreary 20s and escaping back further into the past herself. She dreams of escaping to a golden era where everything was better

What this amounts to is one of Woody Allen's more quiet, tender and lovely films. In the same vein as Sweet & Lowdown, Midnight in Paris remembers fondly a time in the past when great art and literature were created by a commune of great minds coming together. It then ultimately comes to the tender realization that to pine for the past is not enough. One must pay homage to it in order to keep it alive while still finding beauty and poetry in the present to keep the tradition moving forward.


  1. It's one of Allen's best films since Match Point and really shows the actual charming talents that Owen Wilson holds as an actor. Good Review Mike!

  2. It was lovely and all, but now I want a whole movie about Alison Pill as Zelda.

  3. Allen's best film in ages. Loved it in every way, though it does drag slightly in the third act. I love that Allen's just set out to tell a good story and tell it well, and wound up making a great film about art's ability to transport us to completely different worlds. I also like its sub-conflict between Paul, the cold analytical scholar whose opinion is wholly informed by what better men have written about the art he's so knowledgeable about, and Gil, a man who's so enthusiastic and passionate about art and literature that he literally is drawn into the worlds created by both. It's a movie about passion versus raw intellect. And it's a movie that's truly in love with the Paris of the 1920s and all of the figures displayed in each frame.

    Midnight in Paris made me ache for Europe-- I'd just gotten back from my honeymoon in Italy and Wales when we went to the theater to watch this. Fabulous movie.

  4. I personally loved this film. It actually inspired me to go to Borders and binge on buying several books by Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I've seen it three times in the theaters!

    Anyhow...hello! My name is Nathanael Hood from Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear!

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  5. I'm going to differ slightly from the consensus here and say that Midnight in Paris suffered from all the hype I heard before going in. (I, like you, apparently only saw it recently, that being last weekend.) Don't get me wrong, it does many things well -- I just don't think it does them quite as well as other people seem to think. I found the continued meeting of luminaries to be too on-the-nose for me (a friend argues that's the point), and I also found Allen's characterization of Inez and her family to be uncharitable to the point of overkill. (This from a guy who is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.) I agree about the third-act drag as well.

    However, I must say that this movie really did remind me of just how much of a role hype can play in our enjoyment of a film. If I'd seen this film without reading any reviews, I bet I would have been at least slightly more enraptured by it. On the other hand, a movie like Allen's Whatever Works -- which most people considered to be a forgettable trifle at best -- really worked (pun intended) for me because I had heard such negative press about it. In fact, simply because of how I felt while watching it -- more impressed than I expected to be, rather than less -- I retain a more fond feeling toward Whatever Works than toward Midnight in Paris, even though Paris is almost inarguably the better film.

  6. Loved this, saw it twice in theater. Maybe not the most ambitious movie out there but it's so charming and whimsical, it left me with a big smile on my face each time. I think it has a solid shot for a Best Picture nod at the end of the year.