Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen's Latest Masterpiece
Ever dream of time traveling to be with your idols from the past?
I finally broke down and went to see Midnight In Paris yesterday. I held out for so long because I thought I’d seen all Woody Allen’s wit and inspiration and he was just going to be doomed to repeating himself. The reviews I read of this latest movie were encouraging, but made it sound like his homage to Paris was going to be a lot like his film love affair with NYC, and I wasn’t thrilled to see more of that sort of thing.
But, fortunately, I did finally see this one, in a movie theater, where it belongs (although I know I’ll see it a couple times on the small screen too, it was that good).
First of all the cinemagraphy (a real moveable feast! by Debas and Khondji) just explodes from the first frames of Paris. It is masterful paintings of all the familiar Paris scenes brought to life, daytime, sunset, sunrise, night-time, in the rain, windows, doors, stonework - he loves Paris, sure enough, and he finds the best of it to share with us. He goes up and down those tiny cobbled streets and shoots from eye level as well as from the clouds. Woody had a great time, and nobody else could display their shameless love for a city the way he does. I've never been there. Maybe after seeing this movie I'll never go, because he did glorify the place so, it can't possibly be that magnificent in reality.
Also, with this one he has written a superlative story to show off Paris at its best.
He has honed his narrative skills to perfection, cutting and editing with that sharp attention to minute detail and yet there is nothing extraneous. How the heck he does this I’ll never know, but there is some charming or alarming detail that just grabs you and holds you in every frame.
Definitely, use the bathroom before this movie begins! Because even while you're taken with one detail you know there or possibly 5 or 6 other things you didn't see going on at the same time. I know he does that in every movie he makes. Scenes where nothing much seems to be going on the first time you view - just wait, next time you'll see all kinds of stuff in that scene. This he plans - understatement, and nothing much, yawn and then WHAM! and now you're sitting on the edge of your seat and this is not a thriller, even.
Now Owen Wilson has been in just about every romantic or comedic movie I’ve seen lately, and I don’t know why, but it has just turned out that way. I watch rented movies, I buy movies, I go to the movie theater, about 4 or so each week, and it just happens without my trying lately, there he is: Owen Wilson again. Sometimes I fall in love with an actor and want to see everything they’ve done in rapid succession and it is really fun to do that on purpose because you get a clear idea of how good they really are and where they’re going - whether they’re being managed right, how good “their people” are, or whether they’re having problems at home. You can see right away how good they are at picking their projects because by the time an actor has done 3 or 4 movies, they do get to pick and choose. But I’m finding Owen everywhere lately without even trying, and he is pretty picky. Did Woody pick him for his nose? possibly.
If an actor is still studying and working on his skills it really shows. Wilson is still working. That’s why he’s getting all these great parts. He is being so observant of himself, getting it real, carefully changing things up for each characterization. Growing up. He has become one of the ones I will delight in watching grow with the aging process and I always look forward to seeing him. Midnight In Paris is a film that could have been done well with a whole potpourri of different casting - but I’m glad they picked Owen.
Even though I could imagine other actors in the role of “Gil”, I went with him and after the first couple minutes I didn’t even speculate anymore. He was charming and completely got your sympathy. You want something fabulous to happen to this poor guy, a successful screenplay writer who wants so much more. He’s henpecked by his future wife and ridiculed by his future in-laws. I was cheering when he got in a couple of quick verbal punches in to the domineering and arrogant father-in-law.
Here he is in Paris, in springtime, and its beautiful and even more beautiful when it rains - and all his fiancee seems to want to do is shop and follow around her friends - a couple who should be named Mr. and Mrs. Boring-Pedantic. Even the charming french tour guide (Carla Bruni) uses the word "pedantic" to describe the Mr. Anyway, Paris is wasted on these idiots! These people around him aren’t even seeing or feeling the real Paris - they could have been anywhere and they would have the same experience. I don’t think they are even seeing each other - they're living on past experiences of each other, like so many people do. No future with these rich and arrogant and cruelly boring bastards!
There was a lot of help here. This is, I think, the first time I’ve seen Rachel MacAdams in a role where she is not nice - not nice at all. She’s so damn gorgeous and has that dimple and those curves, but then she’s so acerbic as Inez and its frightening how obtuse and predictable she is. She sure doesn’t deserve sensitive and loving Gil. Masterful acting on Rachel’s part and she is another one who keeps working, brings incredible amounts of energy. I love her, and yet in this movie she was a real bitch!
Rachel looking like a b-word
He's doing it again!
Then, I just have to say that Woody Allen is doing it again with all the visual details: the “asides”, the small twists at the end of a long set-up, the glances, the miscommunications. At first you really want this couple to make it because they look so good together, they’re youngish - not juveniles; experienced but understandably naïve too.
You think the director is being predictably Woody, but that is, in essence, unpredictable!
Because, then Gil gets lost at midnight, in Paris - and meets some special people and gets whisked off to 1920’s time travel in a glorious old Peugeot. I won’t tell you more, other reviewers will explain the whole plot, but I’ll just say that he gets to meet everybody who was anybody in Paris in the 20s and it is every aspiring writer’s dream. Did I mention that Gil is a screenwriter, trying to write a novel? Well, that’s the premise, and here is where Woody Allen takes up residence in the movie without physically being there - all these people are aspects of Woody. Even Papa Hemingway who is talking like he writes. Hysterical. Picasso is having woman problems. Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein: “We run this place like an open house” - Kathy Bates! is that not genius or what? and you see where this goes. The plot device of time travel done in such a casual way.
Oh yes, everything fits together like a Chinese puzzle. You don’t have to struggle to watch and understand but you do get the feeling that you will see and hear and sense more of those glorious details every time you re-view this one.
Costumes (Sonia Grande) and set decoration (Helene Dubreuil) and Art Direction (Ann Seibel) are so very incredible. They must have considered this movie a dream come true since they got to make not only the 1920’s come alive but they also got to “do” the Moulin Rouge during “La Belle Epoque“ of the 1890s with Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Gauguin etc. Here the color and light was exceptionally phenomenal. (ok, I’ve used up almost all the superlatives I know on this movie already!)
The expense and complete extravagance of it all was completely worth it. I will be dreaming for a long time about the dress that Adrian (Mariane Cotillard) wears when Gil first meets her - it is the most exquisite thing and rivals the beauty of the woman wearing it just perfectly. It is a dark winey purple silk flapper dress with this incredible beaded butterfly and it drapes and swings on her body just the way 20s fashions were designed to - tempting is the word. Look for it and the many other costume, set and scene art that are perfectly rich in detail, exactitude and authenticity. Look at the suit Salvadore Dali (Adrien Brody) wears, for instance. And also the way they’ve marceled the hair on F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston). All those details that make it seem right, the way the hairdos are kind of fluffy and frizzy (obviously not using modern hair products).
That Adrian - she is such the French seductress without half trying, or so it seems, and you want Gil to just go ahead and cheat on his bitchy girlfriend the moment he sees her. But you know she's not right for Gil, there must be someone - someone who will love Paris in the rain with him? perhaps? I love the corniness and the clarinet playing Cole Porter.
Well, to say the least, I had a real good time. I will see this again several times. I loved the broad humor and the tiny jokes that are Woody Allen’s trademarks. The way he has Owen Wilson slump and look kind of frumpy, then notice himself and try to pull his jacket over his slight paunch, for example. These things all carefully orchestrated to set up the characters and make the fantasy of it believable.
You know I don’t want to give away too much when I review a movie - I leave out a lot of the stuff other reviewers are going to think you should know - but that’s because I really have more fun the less I know about a film when I see it.
That way it all seems like it belongs to me for those hours and minutes I’m watching - I’m not looking for any particular scene or storyline to unfold, its as if I’m Gil’s guardian angel watching over him, rooting for him to get what he so deserves.
Also, I think its great to have online websites for these movies so you can come home afterwards and study the casting, the artists who crafted the movie and read about how they made it. I’m also really looking forward to the director’s notes on the dvd version - won’t that be a blast listening to Woody talk about how it was to make this movie?
But see the movie on a big screen first if you can and before you know too much about it - so much more fun when its like a surprise bouquet.
So I’m saying: this is one of, if not THE best of the Woody Allen catalog - he’s given us so much, and he’s been conscientious and generous with all his films. So go see Midnight In Paris, and come back and tell me what you think. What tidbits did I miss? The spirit of this movie - your basic nostalgia combined with a philosophy of living that lets you have your fantasy and still be real - is unique don’t you think?
I seem to recall I was going to review a movie I hated for you next time - well, maybe that's just not going to happen.