MIDNIGHT IN PARIS :: Oscar Ritual 2012
It has only been in the past decade or so that I’ve become a fan of Woody Allen’s films, and even then I’m reserved in my opinion. But when I do find one of his films interesting I tend to love it wholeheartedly. Such is the case with Midnight In Paris. The premise alone excited me – a writer finds himself transported to 1920s Paris while walking the streets of that city at midnight – and I was quite impressed with the casting of Owen Wilson as said writer. Yet the previews did not do the film justice. Had I depended solely upon the movie trailers I might never have seen the film since it simply did not give indication of the movie’s charm. Had I depended upon those previews I would have expected a comedy when, in fact, Midnight In Paris is far more romantic than comedic. It’s an exploration of life and love and the pursuit of dreams with only a bit of humor and wit thrown into the mix. Even with all of that going for it, it’s Woody Allen’s distinctive voice that truly makes the story come alive.
As the writer protagonist, Owen Wilson is a delight, as self-effacing as always but also incredibly generous as an actor, allowing the robust cast of supporting players to take center stage each and every time. The movie’s great wit comes with those supporting characters as Wilson finds himself face to face with such figures as Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, among many others. Night after night Wilson’s character walks to a particular Paris street corner until he encounters a vintage Peugeot and is beckoned by its passengers to join them for that night’s fabulous party with extraordinary artists. After the fantasy of the experience wears off, Wilson begins to seek advice of his new friends regarding his disenchantment with life, his novel in progress, and his upcoming marriage. As the nights pass and he meets one legendary figure after another, the pieces of his life do fall into place, even as he begins to fall in love with a French woman of the past.
It is rather difficult to make a romantic movie about Paris that does not cause the heart to flutter, and Woody Allen uses that to his advantage in this film. The opening sequence is actually an extended montage of the sights and sounds of Paris. After such a beginning I almost didn’t care what came next! Thankfully, Allen used that romanticism to set the stage for a truly charming film. I was enchanted by the many characters that popped into the 1920s storyline and by the actors who portrayed them, including Marion Cotillard as the French woman of Wilson’s affection and Corey Stoll as the hilariously brash Hemingway – although Adrien Brody was thoroughly underused as Salvador Dalí and ended up playing him as a fool. I was equally impressed with the heart of the film, but I did tire of the “present day” story, as Rachel McAdams was utterly vapid, Michael Sheen was nothing more than a caricature, and the characters of McAdams’s parents were over-the-top in their ridiculousness. Having the present day be so extremely unoriginal was disappointing and unnecessary; Paris past would have appeared grand even without diminishing the current age. But perhaps I wouldn’t have been so enchanted with Wilson’s story. As it stands, I loved Midnight In Paris because I already loved the romanticism of Paris in the Twenties. I saw a lot of myself in Wilson’s character. And when the final moment of the film came along, I actually clapped at the outcome. I’m not sure there’s ever been another Woody Allen film that brought me to that.
movie image via Film Master Journal