Monday, 29 August 2011

“You’re in love with a fantasy”

Midnight in Paris: directed and written by Woody Allen
The novel, The Paris Wife opens with the effective quote “Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.” Owen Wilson’s Gil is suffering from the same infatuation with the city. He – a screenwriter/aspiring author – and his fiancée, Inez, are in Paris for a pre-wedding vacation as he tries to work on his first novel, set to be a romantic ode to the Golden Age of the city – the roaring twenties. That fanciful appreciation for the city is not reflected in Inez and the constant appearance of her cold parents and her snooty friends keep interrupting Gil’s attempts to luxuriate in the city’s beauty. It’s in the loneliness of the night that he gets a chance to savour the Paris he wishes to know and on a midnight stroll he happens upon an antique car which takes him where his heart desires...

There’s something especially light about the film’s entire tone. It’s not the kitschy silliness of Whatever Works nor is it the idiosyncratic romanticism of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The film’s twenties portion moves along at a mellifluous and sometimes saccharinely sweet pace which I rather believe to be an adept way of Woody suggesting the artistic projection which Gil is susceptible to. The fluidity in the twenties is in stark contrast to the deliberately uneven base which inhabits the film’s contemporary half. The film’s opening is a fine example. It’s an ostensibly picturesque image as the engaged couple embrace – an artistically perfect moments which begins to disintegrate almost immediately (never to be retrieved, not by these two at least) as the two disagree on the smallest of things.
The modern-day cast do a good job of creating that dissonant reality which is not completely awful but which yields a pragmatic sense but at the most innocuous of moments is decidedly without charm. Inez puts it so wonderfully; there is nothing romantic about the rain in Paris. It’s not a throwaway line. We’re moving along in differing centuries and we deduce that there must be some parting of ways when Gil latches on decisively to one of the two and the turning point is a surprisingly low stakes one. It is not Woody’s strongest writing, even though it’s still good, and it depends more on the way that the actors work. If the contemporary actors deliver on being pragmatic, the classic ones are ace at being infallibly alluring. The making of a richer story lure underneath and there’s the persistent feel of their being a roll-call as players pop in and out but Alison Pill, Corey Stoll and Marion Cotillard (the latter, especially) dazzling in a feathery role in particular are excellent. It’s the characters that make any city, as it is the characters that make the film.

Since the crux of the story in Midnight in Paris depends on magical occurrences of some sort, it’s a bit difficult to indict it for being outlandish. Yet, Woody seems to subvert what seems to be his ruminations on the artist and his nostalgic yearnings on two separate occasions. When Adriana enters portal to Paris of 1890 it’s a bit jarring and immediately makes the film fall just the tiniest bit limply. Her belief in the splendour of the era works, in theory, and even if the monologue Gil gives which exists as the climax is much too precise the film manages to help itself by making an effective point about artistic yearning. But, later, when Gil’s tail happens upon a medieval Paris – a scene inserted simply for broad laughter – I couldn’t help but find it objectionable.
Gil has spent the entire film with this singular yearning for the city in the twenties. The bizarre occurrence of a journey back to the time – as outlandish as it may be – makes sense and when Adriana does the same it does jolt the narrative but it ultimately works, albeit less adroitly. But, the third doesn’t – at all, especially since it’s the final journey. Before, we could have appreciated that his artistic uniqueness was a part of the reason for the oddness of a time travel portal but that incidental occurrence makes Gil’s journey lose their uniqueness, even though in the grander scheme of things it is something of a minor objection. Midnight in Paris is light, almost bauble like in its delicateness, but it is well made, charmingly shot and scored, lovingly rendered and beautifully acted. Like any fantasy the aftermath leaves us with a faint hint of bitterness, but as far as fantasy goes it’s worthy of love. Even if temporarily.


TomS said...

Yes, indeed I am in love with this fantasy... Glad you had the chance to see it finally. It may grow on you!

anahita said...

I have to say I loved this. Perfect mix of fantasy, romance, brilliant actors, Woody Allen and of course Paris. Maybe repeat watchings will improve it for you? xx

Nick Prigge said...

You make a good point, I think, about the third act. In fact, Woody's often suffered from perfunctory third acts, if you ask me. Like he knows where he wants to go and he might even know how we wants to get there, but he's too impatient to let it happen naturally and he sort of forces it. I always think of "Mighty Aphrodite" where he calls himself out on the deus ex machina in the the greek chorus voiceover. He's just trying to deflect himself from objections of laziness by pointing it out.

Yet...if the movie's good, like "Mighty Aphrodite" or like "Midnight In Paris", I forgive him. The romantic mood of this film just overwhelmed any flaws to my eyes.

Fitz said...

If anyone should be given the credit for the film's success it should be Owen Wilson. He took the oft-used, frequently irritating antics of Allen and made them bearable.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

tom maybe it will. i still like it very much, though.

anahita i cannot stress how significant that "brilliant" actors judgement is. BRILLIANT.

nicholas definitely. even when his films aren't perfect woody brings the charm and this one is just lovely.

fitz just noticed i didn't mention wilson. he's unusually good here. i take it you're no fan of woody?