Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: Midnight in Paris

/Title:  Midnight in Paris
Theatrical Release Date: 05/20/2011
Director(s): Woody Allen
Distributor(s): Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated for some sexual references and smoking.
Genre(s): Comedy

This past weekend, I took myself off to the Cineplex along with my friend Mala to see Woody Allen's new film Midnight in Paris. Now I can't remember the last time I actually spent money to see a Woody Allen film, maybe way back when Match Point came out. Truthfully, I have not found his most recent oeuvre, apart from Vicky, Christina Barcelona to be either funny or interesting for that matter (Don't even get me started on the dreck he directed starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell). Despite my mixed feelings about Mr. Allen, I decided to give this film a shot for two reasons; it stars Owen Wilson and it's set in Paris. And not just Paris, but Paris in the 1920's, a period of history that I have been reading alot about lately, first during my research for SCANDALOUS WOMEN (Josephine Baker, Zelda Fitzgerald) but also in Paula MacLean's THE PARIS WIFE.  I'm a huge 1920's buff so I had to see this film. If nothing else, I could look at the scenery for two hours. And indeed the first minute or so of the film is like a Valentine to Paris.

Well, I'm happy to report that Midnight in Paris was delightful. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter, who is dissatisfied with both his professional career and (as we later see) his personal life.  He's on a trip to Paris, with his fiancee Inez (played by Rachel McAdam) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) who are celebrating a business deal. While Inez is more concerned with materialistic things, Gil is full of nostalgia.  See, he once lived in Paris after college and has regretted leaving ever since. He dreams of renting a little garret and writing the great American novel. Inez, of course, things the whole idea is ridiculous. How can you get a great table at the Ivy, if you are a starving artist.

One night, after Inez and two of her friends Paul (played to perfection by Michael Sheen) go off dancing, Gil decides to walk back to their hotel (the Hotel Bristol). He gets lost and while he's trying to figure out which direction to go, an antique car pulls up and F. Scott Fitgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (Allison Pill) invite him to a party. At first Gil thinks he's stumbled into some elaborate costume party (Cole Porter is even playing the piano) but it turns out to be all too real. He even meets his ideal Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll who almost steals the movie) who tells Gil that he should have Gertrude Stein read his novel.  Gil can't believe his luck. Gil is giddy at the idea that he gets to experience a time in Paris that he's only read about and has always wanted to experience. In his mind, Paris in the 1920's is the ultimate.

Instead of just telling Inez what happened, Gil decides to show her, but she gives up before the car shows up. Gil not only gets to meet Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) but he also meets a young model Adriana (played by the beautiful Marion Cotillard) who is having an affair with Picasso. There is an attraction between the two of them, but of course, Picasso (and Hemingway) not to mention Inez in the present complicate matters. Gil slowly starts to realize how dissatisfying his life really is, and how much he wants to seize the dream of writing in Paris.

Gil's novel features a protagonist who owns a nostalgia shop, a place where people can buy relics of the past (how this different from an antique shop I have no idea). Inez, of course, thinks the whole idea is whooey, she's firmly rooted in the present. Gil dreams of staying in the 1920's, hanging out with Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), but Adriana dreams of living in the Belle Epoque. Soon Gil realizes that this yearning is just a symptom of his dissatisfaction, not a cure.

Midnight in Paris is not just about a love affair with a woman (although Gil is spoiled for choices with not just one but three love interests), or a city, but also another time. How many of us read novels set in another time period, or watch Masterpiece Theatre (Downtown Abbey) and wax nostalgic about how much better life was back then. We see the beautiful costumes, and the gorgeous houses, but we rarely think about what life was really like, if you weren't rich. I know that I've often thought about what it would be like to live in New York in the 1920's. Prohibitons, Mobsters, Vogue Magazine, Chanel, Gershwin, Cole Porter, the Stork Club. Of course, the reality is far different than the way that I picture it in my head. Clubs were segregated, mobsters carry guns, and bathtub gin could kill you.

The past seems so much more vivid to Gil and Adrienne, so much more vivid and vibrant in our imaginations, and then it evaporates when we think of the reality of what it would really be like. We ignore the reality of it, that there was no novocaine, women had few rights, if you were diagnosed with cancer it was pretty much a death sentence. The past is so seductive because we weren't there, we don't know what it was really like. I know that growing up whenever my parents used wax nostalgic about what New York used to be like, I would feel pangs of longing that I never got experience seeing the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field or having an egg cream. “Midnight in Paris,”  is wonderfully romantic film, even though it acknowledges the disappointment that goes inevitably goes along with being a romantic.

My only quibble with the film is that the women seem to be underwritten.  Gil's fiancee Inez is a castrating shrew, I had a hard time understanding why Gil fell in love with her and proposed, Adriana is pretty much a cipher, and Carla Bruni is pretty bland as the tour guide.  The only vibrant women are Gertrude Stein and Zelda Fitzgerald but that has less to do with Woody Allen's writing and more to do with who these women were in real-life.

Gotham Gal gives it four shiny red apples

Do you, like Gil, suffer from nostalgia for a time period or a place that you wish that you could have lived in. If you could go back in time, would you?

1 comment:

Elizabeth Lombard said...

I do. I, like Gil, wish I were born in the 1920's when things were just easier and you didn't have distractions like tv and computers (I know it's ironic that I am replying to a blog.) People were much more entertaining and were far easier to entertain. I wish I had a time machine because I wouldn't just go back to Paris, I would go to England and other parts of the US where writers were prolific. I would love to be acquainted not only with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but also Joyce and Woolf. What a world that would be!