Midnight in Paris (2011) – Another Twenties Memory from Woody Allen…

Before I left for Prague once, I picked up a copy of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude (Příliš Hlučna Samota).  It instantly became my favourite book, and Hrabal one of my favourite authors.

Arriving in Prague, I discovered Hrabal was once a regular of U Zlateho Tygra – there’s a picture of him on the wall, enjoying a few beers with Vaclav Havel and Bill Clinton.

Hrabal died in February 1997.  Damn it, if I’d only read that book and traveled to Prague nine years earlier, I could have met my new literary idol!

As a wannabe writer, I bought into the romantic idea of city as muse.  Prague, with its strong literary tradition and evocative atmosphere, was clearly the place for me to write a novel.  Only problem was, I spent more time smoking, boozing and falling down escalators than I did writing.

So I completely bought into Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s inconsequential, light-hearted tale of a struggling novelist traveling back to Paris’ Jazz Age of the Twenties to meet his literary idols, Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a successful Hollywood screenwriter working on his first novel.  He is in Paris on holiday with his bitchy, materialistic fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her wealthy, obnoxious parents.

Gil and Inez are hardly the perfect match.  Gil finds Paris romantic and inspiring, and fantasizes about moving to the city once they’re married.  Inez wants to live in Malibu and has little time for Gil or his creative ambitions.

Also in Paris are a couple of Inez’s friends, Paul and Nina.  Paul is a pretentious show off, and Gil can’t stand him.  One night, drunk, Gil declines the offer to go dancing, instead deciding to walk back to the hotel.

On the stroke of midnight, an antique car pulls up, and takes him back to the Twenties.  He meets many famous characters from the era – Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Ernest Hemingway.

As Gil flits back and forth between the 20’s and the present, Hemingway also introduces him to Gertrude Stein, who offers to read his book.  He also gets to meet Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, and Pablo Picasso.  He meets Picasso’s mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), and instantly falls for her.

Midnight in Paris can be considered a loose adaptation of Woody Allen’s own short story, A Twenties Memory.  From his own filmography, it is most often compared to Purple Rose of Cairo.

The idea of traveling through time and finding inspiration from historical figures is hardly anything new – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure immediately came to mind.  Nor is the idea of being romantically involved with two women from different eras – Allen might not be familiar with it, but the unfathomably popular BBC sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart covered similar ground.

Owen Wilson is a good casting choice for Gil.  He makes a sunny change of lead from the uptight, neurotic East coast pseudo-intellectuals that normally populate Allen’s films.  He brings his usual breezy enthusiasm to the role.  He also brings along some underdog charm – his career, though lucrative, is considered vulgar by Inez, her parents, and the snooty, self-satisfied Paul.

The other modern day characters aren’t served so well.  McAdam as Inez, and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) are one-note romantic comedy stereotypes.  Inez is so abusive and dismissive of Gil, and her parents so openly disapproving, he can hardly be blamed for seeking shelter and affection in the twenties.  Michael Sheen enjoys himself immensely as the pompous Paul.

Of the historical figures, Corey Stoll stands out as the vigorously macho Hemingway.  Alison Pill also makes a big impression as the vibrantly damaged Zelda Fitzgerald.  Adrian Brody has fun as Dali, and Kathy Bates is less annoying than she has been forever as Gertrude Stein.

There is one strange moment involving Bates, though – because of her role in Titanic, Stein’s appraisal of Picasso’s painting echoed a similar scene involving Kate Winslet in Cameron’s blockbuster.

Woody Allen tries to do for Paris what he has done for New York for decades – the opening montage recalls Manhattan, just without the magic.  Although shot on location, there isn’t much apart from a few obvious tourist shots of the landmarks to say we’re in the French capital.

Most of the exteriors could have been shot on a sound stage or any city with ancient cobbled streets.  As much as he wants to, Allen doesn’t have much flair for Paris.  He saves most of the best stuff for the Twenties scenes, making Paris of the Twenties alluringly dark, decadent and sexy.

Midnight in Paris is a delightfully fluffy jaunt through time, and Allen makes a good point about nostalgia – each era idolizes a previous time as a Golden Age,  rarely appreciating the present.  Although if anyone is usually guilty of nostalgia, it’s Woody Allen.

About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 06/06/2012, in Comedy, Entertainment, Fantasy, Film, M, Movies, Reviews, Romance, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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