10 October 2011


Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers whose shape forms an embarrassing gap in my cinematic knowledge. I'm 21 years old- I've just not been into good movies long enough to have caught up on every single one. What I can tell you is that Midnight in Paris is Allen's first new movie in a while where the premise hasn't put me off making an effort to see it. Of his recent oeuvre, I've caught Match Point (urgh) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (eh), both by accident.

Happily, Midnight in Paris lives up to its high concept premise and is plenty of fun to boot. Screenwriting hack Gil Pender is on holiday in Paris with his fiancee, Inez, and her Republican parents, battling their maddening indifference to the beauty of the city in order to try and enjoy it himself. Gil lacks confidence in his breakaway project, a novel about a nostalgia shop. But when the witching hour arrives, Gil is picked up by an old-timey car that whisks him away to the Paris of the 1920s, populated by legendary celebrities of art and literature.

There's something endearingly accessible about the film's enchanting qualities. And yet the hero is a rich script doctor, who still moans about his station in life and shows all the signs of being quite frugal. All of those close to him are ignorant and privileged too. And I admit, despite having studied literature in secondary school, and briefly at college, that I personally wouldn't know Hemingway from a hole in the ground. And yet with no initial frame of reference for the characters, Allen or the arts, I still enjoyed Midnight in Paris immensely.

To the first, I can say that the film isn't on the side of the wealthy, instead sharply satirising their ignorance. This is best summed up with a brief but memorable turn by Michael Sheen as a odious pseud, called Paul. He ponces around, prefixing his bragging with "If I'm not mistaken" and arguing semantics with museum tour guides. Elsewhere, Rachel McAdams plays a dim and dismissive character who is just about the only version of Rachel McAdams to whom you wouldn't be attracted. Owen Wilson is effectively a proxy for Allen himself as our hero, Gil- exasperated by the pseudo-intellectualism and tourist-y boredom by turns.

Wilson usually annoys me, but this one proves again that he's at his best when given a good script and a good character. It might be similar to many of Allen's leads, but hey, he writes himself very well, and Wilson plays it well too. And thus you can appreciate his wonderment at all of the historical celebrities that he meets, even if you don't particularly know who they are. It also helps that all of those characters are embodied, in living colour, by the tremendous supporting cast.

Alongside the quiet and clever performances by Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill, as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, you have a grandstanding performance from Corey Stoll, whose Ernest Hemingway is at once boisterous and sharp, to the point where you kind of wish there was more of him in the film altogether. On a smaller, but no less memorable scale, Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, the less famous muse to all of these creative spirits. In her elegant flirtation with Gil, she's the catalyst for the eventual crux of the film.

Early on in the film, Paul smarmily opines that "nostalgia is a form of denial." Now, because Paul is not a cartoon character, and Midnight in Paris is not an entirely dewy-eyed romance, the gag is not that he's wrong. The gag is that he's right, in some ways, but that he's still an arsehole. The driving force of Allen's script is to let Gil focus on the present and stop dwelling on the past, which used to be some other dreamer's present, in and of itself. The charm of the piece lies in the mechanism of actually getting there, the absurdity of which is waved away when Gil explains it to surrealist artists, who see nothing unusual in the city's pan-historical weirdness.

Midnight in Paris may essentially be a tourist piece, in which Paris is an irreproachable haven for the frustrated creative spirit, but its accessibility and charm is what will captivate the audience. A quick look on Wikipedia after the film won't hurt anyone who can't keep up with the references to the different talented personalities represented herein, but there's plenty to enjoy all the same, even for an uncultured swine such as myself. Together with the music and the beautiful cinematography, this is one of those rare romances that truly swept me off my feet.

Midnight in Paris is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Midnight in Paris, why not share your comments below? Also, watch out for Adrien Brody, making the most of a brilliant cameo as Salvador Dali.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

theoncominghope said...

It was a fairly light movie by Woody Allen standards, but who am I to complain about Lost Generation fanfic?

My thoughts are here if you're interested: