Monday, July 4, 2011

A Moveable Feast Served by Woody Allen

In June, I took advantage of the Balboa's policy of free admission on your birthday. I saw Midnight in Paris.

Midnight in Paris starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams & Marion Cotillard; directed by Woody Allen; (2011) - Official Website


I'm not a huge fan of Woody Allen's films. I won't bother to catalog the films I enjoyed or didn't enjoy. Midnight in Paris falls into the "like" category.

The plot revolves around Owen Wilson's Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter with ambitions of being a serious novelist. He travels to Paris with Inez (Rachel McAdams), his fiancée and her parents. Inez is materialistic (her parents are Republicans after all) and noticeably dismissive of Gil's opinions in general.

For his part, Gil seems ambivalent about his upcoming nuptials. Inez's pretentious friend Paul is guest lecturing at the Sorbonne. While Inez hangs on each and every supercilious word out of his mouth, Gil finds him insufferable and quickly decides he prefers roaming the streets of Paris late at night to the company of his fiancée and the ever present Paul.

Gil eventually falls in with the wrong crowd - promiscuous alcoholics without steady least that would be Inez's opinion. Through a tear in the space-time continuum or some other explanation which is never broached, at the stroke of midnight, Gil is able to travel to 1920s Paris where he encounters his artistic heroes - Ernest Hemingway, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Luis Buñuel, etc. Gil returns night after night to interact with the legendary expatriates as well as receive critical advice and editing help on his novel from Gertrude Stein.

Gil catches the eye of Adriana (Marion Cotillard as appealing as I've ever seen her). I believe Adriana is a fictional character but she is presented in the film as Picasso's mistress and Hemingway's conquest. Adriana is attracted to the uninspiring Gil because he is unlike any of the men she knows in 1920s Paris. Ultimately, Gil & Adriana "double time travel" - they travel from Paris in the 1920s to Paris in the 1890s where they encounter Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas.

Adriana considers this period (Belle Époque) to be the Golden Age is dissatisfied with the 1920s which Gil similarly considers the Golden Age. Adriana wants to stay in the 1890s with Gil but the situation has made Gil realize that each generation is nostalgic for the past and that his time travel is enabling his dysfunction. Gil returns to the present day, confronts Inez about her affair with Paul (which he has been subconsciously denying), breaks off the engagement and decides to stay in Paris to work on his novel as well as explore the nascent relationship he has struck up with a pretty antiques dealer.

This is a Woody Allen film and a romantic comedy which is another way of saying it was too obvious by a half. Woody portrayed the 1920s characters as caricatures which is acceptable to me. Was Gil really in the 1920s or was he imagining (hallucinating?) the whole thing? Allen implies the former but it is easy to understand how Gil's impression of these people could be influenced by the legends which have taken hold in the intervening years. In particular, Corey Stoll's performance as Hemingway conflates the man, his work and the legend but it is to good comedic effect.

More troublesome for me is the portrayal of Inez, her parents and Paul. These people were so irksome that I wondered why Gil would associate with them much less marry into their family. I took a breath and softly repeated "It's a Woody Allen comedy. It's a Woody Allen comedy." Accepted on those terms, Inez's shrewish nature and her parents obvious condescension towards Gil were easier to appreciate. Actually, Mimi Kennedy and the always solid Kurt Fuller delivered some genuinely funny moments. Rachel McAdams who I last saw as the preternaturally perky producer in Morning Glory showed some range between the two films.

Overall, Midnight in Paris was an enjoyable Woody Allen film. It is a lightweight comedy which seemed as though it had the potential to be more. Rather than focus on what it wasn't, I appreciate it for what it was.

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