Recently a few people encouraged me to check out Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Many times I’ve heard that you either love or hate Woody’s movies. I don’t quite agree with that. There are some movies of his that I like very much, including his early comedic Bananas and Sleeper and his later, more dramatic Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m not personally a fan of some of the romantic comedies (Annie Hall, Manhattan) that he wrote, directed, and starred in during the middle of his career. They seemed a bit long-winded and self-serving to me, but I can’t say that I hated them either. And to be honest, I’m not sure I even gave them an honest viewing. Maybe I’ll try again in the future.
I didn’t even know the premise of Midnight in Paris before watching it on DVD this past weekend. It sounded like a typical Parisian love story where some sort of magic happens at midnight. Well, in a sense I wasn’t far off, but it’s not the kind of “magic” I was expecting.
The premise is this: frustrated screenwriter Gil (played by Owen Wilson) and his lovely fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are vacationing in Paris thanks to her parents being there for a business trip. Gil, a self-proclaimed Hollywood Hack and aspiring novelist, marvels about the beauty of Paris and how amazing it must have been to have lived there during the golden age of the 1920’s, hanging out drinking and writing with some of his heroes like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Now, from the beginning, I found myself hating all the characters aside from Gil. They came off as cliché, snobbish, and critical of Gil. It seemed obvious from the beginning that Inez was more interested in hanging out with her snooty friend Paul (Michael Sheen,) who constantly showed off his knowledge of all things Parisian, than with her own fiancé. And Inez’s parents were clearly at odds with Gil, and at one point, her father, John (Kurt Fuller,) even goes as far as hiring a private investigator to keep tabs on Gil (a rather poor and unused subplot.)
So one night when Paul (and the woman he was with) and Inez wanted to go dancing after a wine tasting, Gil, having a bit too much to drink, decided to walk back to the room instead. As Inez had predicted, Gil got lost and sat down on a staircase to rest his legs. Just then, as the clock struck midnight, an antique car, in mint condition, rolls up and the people inside urge Gil to get in. They’re all dressed in 1920’s attire, and, at first, Gil seems to think he stumbled across some kind of costume party. Then he’s hanging out with F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda. Next he meets Ernest Hemingway, and the surprises keep coming.
The next morning, he wakes up in his hotel room where Inez is getting ready for another day of tourism. Had Gil only imagined the night before? Was it a drunken dream? Is he insane? Or had he stumbled across a time portal to the 1920’s? Gil goes back to the staircase the following night to try and figure it out.
Whether it’s real or not, Gil finds a way to return to the 1920’s the following night, and the night after that, meeting new writers and artists, making good friends with them all. And even falling for the mysterious, Adriana (played by Marion Cotillard,) who has a thing for artists and writers.
At this point, it dawned on me that the unlikable characters that surrounded Gil in the modern world was a ploy by Woody to get the audience to side with Gil from the beginning and follow him on this journey. Regardless, I’d become mesmerized by the world he had stumbled upon. I too fell under that romantic notion that, especially as a writer or artist, I would be happier in a simpler time. In a place where like-minded creative types hung out in a trendy, fashionable city, to talk about literature and art, and drank and partied into the early morning hours. Where Gertrude Stein would offer to critique my manuscript. Hemingway would challenge me to box. Where without anyone knowing me or reading a drop of my prose, they’d include me as part of their gang and take me to all the fancy parties.
Whether the characters and plot are solid or not, Midnight in Paris has a hypnotizing quality to it. It challenges the notion that life was better during earlier generations. And if nothing else, it’s good, old-fashioned escapism.
Congratulations to Woody Allen for winning the Oscar this past Sunday for best original screenplay for the very same movie I’m reviewing, Midnight in Paris.