Thursday, June 23, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

I'm in the process of becoming a better cinephile. I've only been truly inducted into the ranks during the past few years, so I've been catching up on the important directors (Bergman, Godard, Hitchcock, Malick) while also keeping up with recent releases and, of course, the awards seasons (you know I love those). I feel that I've achieved a significant milestone in my cinephilia this week, when, for the first time, I saw a Woody Allen film in an arthouse theater. Granted, it's not quite what it would have been in, say, the '80s, but I still felt the excitement of seeing the auteur's latest film, Midnight in Paris, in a dark room with at least a hundred strangers. And I'm glad to say that not only is it Allen's best film in years, but it's also one of the best films of the here-to-fore disappointing year.

Midnight in Paris is about Gil (Owen Wilson), a burned-out Hollywood screenwriter who is working on a novel. Gil's a romantic who dreams of "the Golden Age" of 1920s Paris, much to the chargin of his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). On top of that, he has to put up with Inez's know-it-all former professor (Michael Sheen) and his doting companion (lovely Broadway vet Nina Arianda). While strolling around Paris alone one night, he magically finds himself transported to his Golden Age, where he meets the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and the cuter-than-usual Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Luis Bunuel (Adrien de Van), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody, hamming it up). He finds inspiration here, as well as Adriana (Marion Cotillard), an alluring woman who he starts to fall in love with.

As I said in the beginning, this is Allen's best film in years (I haven't seen Match Point, and though I thought Vicky Christina Barcelona was a fine film it was still lacking a certain energy). Sure, it's not quite at the levels of Allen at his finest, but Paris seems to have really inspired something in him. Wilson gives a great performance as Gil, obviously meant to be an Allen stand-in, but also giving him life as a separate creation. And if this is how Allen is thinking, it's clear that he's in an interesting place in his life, at once praising nostalgia while warning not to become too enamored with the past. In way, it can be seen as a sort of statement on Allen's career: yes, the past was glorious, but you can't keep waiting for it to return; it's best to accept what the present provides. And if the film's of Allen's present can be as good as Midnight in Paris (and avoid, well, basically everything else from the past decade), then it's hard to complain, even if it will be considered a minor film in his career.

Plus, it has Marion Cotillard. I love Marion. It's hard for me to not like a movie she graces with her luminous presence.

This isn't to say it's a perfect film. The best performances come from the smaller roles of the famous artists, especially Pill's loony impulsiveness and Stoll's hilarious abrasiveness, rather than from the film's actual leads. The film comes to a sort of rushed ending as well (not unlike another film I really enjoyed this year), with a conclusion that was only somewhat hinted at throughout the film and without much real payoff. Inez is the biggest flaw of the film. She's completely unlikable to the point where its impossible to understand why Gil would even be friends with her, much less engaged to married to her. Making matters worse is that McAdams, who is completely likable, is wasted in the role, having nothing to do but be harpy and bitchy without any redeeming qualities. It's a one note character that damages the rest of the film.

I probably enjoyed Midnight in Paris more than many did. I love Paris, as well as movies about Paris. For me, it was the kind of film that reminded me of why I fell in love with movies to begin with. It's not perfect, nor will it be known as one of the best films of all time, but it's magical enough to enchant me for an evening.

PS: Oh, and Carla Bruni, aka Mrs. Sarkozy, was a tour guide. That's about all there is to say about that.

1 comment:

Simon said...

Why are people so annoyed that Gil would have anything to do with Inez? She's Rachel McAdams, who makes bitchy seem superficially delightful. She would make that kind of horridness dormant until she had you safely by the house downpayment.