Friday, December 23, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Somehow this is the only Woody Allen movie I've seen that's been released since 1989, though my Netflix queue tells me that will change soon. He doesn't appear to have changed that much as a writer or director since then, though I've gotten the impression that this is his best work in a while, and since it wasn't actually all that great, it makes me wonder how much he's slipped. Midnight in Paris isn't bad at all, and in truth I enjoyed most of it. But there are some things about it that bothered me too, and it really isn't anything new for him.

The most surprising thing about the film is its fantasy premise, which I didn't really know about. Owen Wilson is a stand-in for the definitely-too-old Allen, playing a pretty standard Allen character - a Hollywood writer who hates his job and would prefer to be a novelist. While on vacation with his fiancé and her parents in Paris, you see many cracks in their relationship. They don't fundamentally agree on most things, and you question how they got together in the first place. He's hopelessly romantic about the city and the past and being a real artist, and she wants nothing to do with it. But then while on a walk at night he gets into an old car with some people and taken to a party where he meets many famous artists from the period he's nostalgic for, from Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso. At first I thought it was just a costume party or something, but before too long it's apparent that he's actually somehow visiting another time. By day he fakes being interested in what his future wife is doing, but by night he's showing his writing to Gertrude Stein and falling in love with a woman played by Marion Cotillard.

It's kind of an odd story, but it's an effective one about career and life in general, how we may not always be totally happy and satisfied, but maybe we're not supposed to be, and trying to hide in the past isn't a good way to deal with it. I liked how Wilson's relationship with Cotillard eventually allows him to learn what he needs to, and while it's not exactly the funniest comedy, there's some pretty enjoyable scenes. It's fun playing spot the famous person, both in the older artists being portrayed and the actors playing them. My favorite was Adrien Brody playing a Salvador Dali who's apparently become obsessed with rhinoceroses.

As I said though, there were flaws too, most notably perhaps being that the film is so yellow that I was often distracted by it. I understand wanting to create an aesthetic, but I'm pretty sure Paris isn't that damn yellow in any time period. The characters also often seem underwritten, or not fully thought through. Owen does a decent job with the character, and has a few genuinely very good acting moments, but it's sometimes hard to like him when he acts like one of the most deluded and unreasonable people ever. Actually experiencing time travel only gets you so far. And I think the story of his obsession and drifting away from real life would have been more effective if the people in it weren't so shitty. His fiancé and her parents and her know-it-all friend are completely unsympathetic. The actors are fine, they're just written to be villains, and I don't think it helped the story. If you were with someone who started talking about how they were going off at night and partying with Hemingway, you probably wouldn't react well either. Midnight in Paris is a fine movie, but it's far from Allen's best work.

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