director Woody Allen
Never a Woody Allen devotee, I’d only managed to see one other of his films in the past decade, his 2006 Scoop with Scarlett Johansson. Despite its positive reviews, Midnight in Paris was not high on my list either. But a friend urged me to watch it, saying that it was indeed a very good movie.
Well, what can I say? I did indeed like Midnight in Paris.
Reading about Allen from the outside, meaning reading about him and his films in the press while never actually watching his films, is sort of an educated ignorance. His recent series of films set in Europe seemed an odd, though real change for the noted Manhattanite. And while it’s hard or just foolhardy to suppose about things that one hasn’t full knowledge of, it’s quite possible to assume that Midnight in Paris is his gem of this period.
It stars Owen Wilson as “the Woody Allen character” as is often the case in films that Allen doesn’t appear in on his own, a young writer, verging on a Hollywood career, torn by his passion as a novelist and his pretty but shallow fiancee. They visit Paris with his in-laws to be and he accidentally falls into a reverie, discovering on his late night walks, a Paris of another era, his fantasy of “the Lost Generation” of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein (among many others).
It’s light fantasy, or fantasy-lite, but it’s a conceit that pervades charm and is metaphorically fertile. Every city is in many ways haunted by its pasts, its periods, its history, its classic citizens. Wilson is enamored of the 1920’s and so finds the Paris he is seeking and more. The illusion is real, like a The Twilight Zone episode, one into which he could escape if he wanted to, especially with the beautiful Marion Cotillard, a muse from another time, away from the charms and shortcomings of the present (and of America).
Allen and Wilson come to realize the illusion of their reveries, that all ideals are “idealized”, all times seen as beautiful epochs are indeed their own “Belle Époques”, beautiful, especially in hindsight, to those so inclined to myopically view history.
The fantasy of the “Lost Generation” could probably inspire students of literature and history today but Midnight in Paris is Allen’s dream, perhaps a flitting fancy, even. The film is charged by wonderful cameo performances by actors playing the flitting figures of art and history. My personal favorite was Adrien Brody as Salvadore Dali, fervid, self-promoting, silly, charming.
I did indeed enjoy it. Since I have only seen one other of Allen’s recent films, it’s not fair of me to say that it’s his best in ages, but it does seem apt to compare it to his 1994 Bullets Over Broadway, which was also a period film without Allen in it, as one of his biggest successes of recent times (relatively recent). But actually, I liked it more than I liked that one. Wilson is good, too, not channeling Allen the way some actors do (or feel they need to do) but working the character through his own comic vernacular.
I am interested to see what Allen’s next film will be. He’s filming here in San Francisco.