Midnight in Paris - In Search of La Belle Epoque
I saw Midnight in Paris tonight. and I finally experienced what I have been wanting for years--a superbly written Woody Allen script with him forgoing the acting role to concentrate on directing. Allen was able to delightfully explore the angst--not the kind linked to anxiety, but a comic struggle between the hopelessness of life and the hope for something that transcends and makes existence meaningful.
In this case, the protagonist Gil, played by Owen Wilson, is a successful Hollywood writer seemingly condemned to write forgetful, but well paying scripts for B-movies. Gil is visiting Paris with his sexy and well positioned fiancé, Inez (Rachel MacAdams) and his disapproving but wealthy, prosaic future in-laws. He longs for the times of the golden age of creativity, 1920s Paris where he can write with Fitzgerald, Eliot and Hemingway and walk the streets of Paris in the rain.
He hints of staying in Paris, living simply to write his novel, but Inez does not share his romantic view and will hear nothing of it. Rather than continue to traditionally tour Paris with Inez and her parents and Paul, a self-proclaimed expert on everything and Inez's college crush, he begs off one night, saying he would rather walk the streets of Paris for inspiration and gets hopelessly lost in the heart of the city's Left Bank.
What he finds is far more than he had hoped--a vintage Peugeot,
filled with insistent party-goers picks him up at the stroke of midnight
and transports him to 1920s Paris and the company of a "field of
dreams" of writers, artists and an enchanting muse. Leaving a party for
Jean Cocteau livened by Cole Porter at the piano, Gil and his new friends, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, go to a bar where he
meets Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) who talks authoritatively of how
men should live.
He refuses to read Gil's manuscript, saying no writer can be impartial, but agrees to take it to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) where they meet Picasso and his mistress, the lovely Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and she and Gil fall in love.
Marion is mesmerizing as the enigmatic and sultry muse and Rachel is as beautiful as she is pretentious.
Returning each night at midnight to the same spot, Gil interacts with the Lost Generation of Paris to rewrite his novel and cannot believe his incredible fortune to be transported into his dream era. When they travel even farther back in time to Adriana's golden age, La Belle Epoque of the Moulin Rouge, they meet up with Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin who assert that the Renaissance is the golden age. It is here that the conflicts of the story come to a head and Gil has to confront his illusions about the past and present and choose between Adriana, Inez and his dreams
.With a stage-like set-up, Allen tells a story of romance and introspection accompanied by colorful icons and heady eras of art and literature's golden ages of Paris. The writer and director merge in this loving portrait of Paris and the audience laughs out loud when a group of Surrealists led by Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody) hear Gil's story of time travel and take it as perfectly reasonable.
While other critics may fault the limits set on plot, characters and rationalization, I agree with Allen that the focus is on the question of "is there a better time than the one in which we live" and the stage, although beautiful, exists to showcase that dilemma and leave you asking yourself the same question as you walk out of the theater and into your own stage.