(A Semi-In Depth) Midnight in Paris Review
by Bret Dorman
Since writing reviews, I’ve come across times where I don’t write some reviews for some movies I see. I think I’ve been a lot better lately, but this may be the first Woody Allen movie I will be writing a review for.
First, a well known history/mandatory tidbit of trivia on Allen. Since Writing/Directing Annie Hall in ’77, Allen has written/directed one movie a year. Its hard to imagine this man has anything left to say, or any new ideas left to film, or ways to film them, but he’s not going to let that keep him from at least trying…
The Story: Owen Wilson (Gil) is a Hollywood screenwriter in Paris with his lovely fiance Rachel McAdams (Inez). There they walk around and talk and meet up with some of her friends. Also, something happens at Midnight.
Now if my description of the story is vague, its because I don’t want to ruin part of the fun of this movie. As far as the trailer is concerned, for my money, it is THE BEST trailer you will see all year. It gives you a glimpse of what the movie is, without actually giving away the entire plot. In fact, what they show in the preview is just the smallest portion of what the movie is even about.
So most of my review will take place in the Spoiler! section. I can say, that Woody Allen, for being a man who has had some iconic movies and some terrible duds, finds a way to make one of the most playful and fun scripts of the year. The first time I saw this movie I was taken aback by just what I was seeing and totally engrossed in what was happening and what was going to happen. The second time I appreciated the message of the movie and how wonderfully cinematic it is while at the same time being ‘auto-biographical’ and playful. If this doesn’t at least get nominated for best script of the year I will be mad.
Midnight in Paris is a movie that is about something, has a purpose, and yet is never not entertaining. This is movie making at its most youthful and energetic from a seasoned pro.
Final Grade: A
When it comes to films, real films, about things, I like it when a movie has a point of view. Some movies can get away with the whole “It asks so many questions! It makes you think!” thing but to me, from a story telling point of view, its much harder to try to answer these questions than to just bring them up.
For me, that’s what is so appealing about Midnight in Paris. It takes on the topic of Nostalgia and actually has something to say about it. And like last year’s Black Swan (My favorite movie of the year last year, which tackles the topic of Perfection), this movie isn’t subtle about it. At a slim 94 minutes (according to the official Press Kit available on the official site, 100 min according to http://www.imdb.com) it wastes no time and every scene is setting something up, having fun with it, and then it paying off.
The Set up: This movie has a big set up to the premise. Based solely on the trailer, you’d think this is a straight up Romantic Comedy (not to be confused with ‘RomCom’… think any Matthew McConaughey/Kate Hudson Movie). Gil and his wife Inez are fiances in Paris piggybacking on her parent’s business trip. There they bump into her friends Paul and Carol. Gil doesn’t like them (mostly him), because he is a pretentious ass.
Gil is also a Hollywood (hack) writer who is disappointed he has never done any ‘real work’. He is absolutely in love with Paris in the 20s and in attempting to write his first novel he makes the main character someone obsessed with the past.
The Playtime: What the preview COMPLETELY neglects to tell you is that Gil travels back in time, with no rhyme or reason (except its midnight), and gets to visit Paris in the 20s. Awesome. There he meets all his idols and gets his book read. Its actually pretty interesting to think of this as a science fiction because there is nothing stereotypically science fiction-y about it. Its just fun. I love that he writes a book about the past and how much it means to the character, while to the people reading it, it is the present, so it seems ‘ahead of its time’ in its retrospective view.
While there he meets Adriana, who is obsessed with Paris in the 1890s. But her instant charm and beauty makes him question his own love in the present.
The Payoff: Gil, who is self-conscious about his writing and ambition to write, gets encouraging words from his idols and even their opinion on his words.
Adriana visits the 1890s and decides to stay. Gil however decides that the present is the best time to be, but having met her he questions his own relationship with Inez. So he breaks up with her and maybe starts a courtship with Gabrielle, the beautiful antique store worker. While this ending may seem hokey, I fully support it and how it wraps up the movie nicely with a bow and fits in with the fun, playful tone of the film.
In fact, the whole movie is inspiring. Its a smorgasbord of comedy ranging from silly physical humor (him running around the room with the ‘present’ aka his fiance’s pearl earrings) to great acting (Wilson’s child like excitement upon hearing Hemingway will give his manuscript to Gertrude Stein) to just plain character mentions (T.S. Eliot), to quirky character interactions (Dali’s obsession with rhinos…) to witty dialogue (basically anything Zelda Fitzgerald says) to character call back moments (the tour guide referring to Paul as ‘pedantic’) to Classic Woody Allen goofing off (The Detective in Medieval Times being chased). This movie is a comedy through and through.
And yet, there are deeply romantic aspects. Gil is neurotically charming (as most Allen characters are) and Owen’s chemistry with McAdams is inspired. They seem comfortable enough to be getting married and the lack of real sparks only serves the movie more. Marion Cotillard and Owen are great on screen and their characters seem more fascinated by just how different the other is compared to all the ‘normal’ people around them.
The most obvious romance though is with Paris itself. Gil delivers a great monologue about how Paris could be the ‘hottest spot in the universe’ and its said with enough passion to actually make you believe it. Also, its interesting to see such a lively movie from Allen, that embraces not only the present (most of his films have a ‘Golden Age Syndrome’ about them) but about life itself (most of his films feature dismal death talk). I think Gertrude Stein’s little pep talk to him about ‘its the artist job to find meaning and purpose’ is something Allen took to heart for this movie.
Speaking of auto-biographical moments, the part with Gil sitting on the bed rewriting his manuscript talking about how he needs to let his imagination go more and how this is a chance for him to really do something great is almost Allen putting in a meta-Adaptation-esque moment of him rewriting this movie with the time travel element into it and basking in its greatness. The one thing I will say that’s ‘negative’ about this movie is sometimes the Gil character has an obvious Allen quirk or mention (Inez mentioning him ‘checking out the fire exits’) that don’t seem fully like a Gil trait but rather an obvious Allen trait put in a first draft and left.When looking at the cast, its hard to imagine all these people getting the same screen time or big character defining moments in the movie. Smartly, Allen doesn’t make this about what actor is playing who, but rather using their talents and letting them have fun with this crazy world of Time Jumping… er… Driving? I’m thinking most specifically of Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali. I would have loved to see more of this (Brody is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors and Allen is an Icon) but we only get a short scene with him. Yet that’s all the story needed.
I could blush and gush about everyone here but let’s just say everyone did a fantastic job. Okay… I can’t resist… Allison Pill as Zelda was really fantastic.
One final thing I want to note is that I love how Allen doesn’t just ‘shoot’ a movie the way most movies are shot. His camera and actors dance around each other in a well timed and choreographed ballet and he uses over-the-shoulder dialogue as a tool, not a standard.
In Conclusion, Midnight in Paris is a film that is about the dangers of Nostalgia and following your passion, in the heat of the moment (Gil regretting not moving to Paris years ago made up for by walking Gabrielle home in the rain). Its a surprisingly up beat and positive Romantic message from Allen that also is done in a light hearted Comedic way.