Midnight in Paris Review: A Lovely Nostalgia

Woody Allen’s latest endeavor Midnight in Paris economically speaking is his best movie to date, two months in theaters, and 42 million in the bank. Yet, stylistically and cinematically, Allen fans may find this to be his most charming production. It contains all the remnants of a classic Wood-man film, multiple loves, a beautiful city, and plenty of humor. In this summer of  monster, alien, and robot blockbusters, Midnight offers a breath of small budget fresh air that is just as fulfilling.

The film follows Gil Pender (played by the quirky Owen Wilson), and his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) as they vacation to Paris before the couple’s future wedding. A hollywood screenwriter in the midst of writing a novel, Gil is enthralled within the city light of Paris. His penchant for strolling the streets with baguette under his arm and desire to live in the rainy days of 1920s Paris bursts out among his day-to-day schedule, strictly controlled by Inez and her tag-along parents. He has, what snooty visiting friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda) call, Golden Age syndrome, the exaggerated belief that something used to be substantially better than it is now. This typically is expressed with bitterness about one’s present condition, and Gil’s solemn dislike for Inez’s big shot Paul contributes to his negative current standing.

Allen makes Gil and Inez’s dissociation highly noticeable, not only in Gil and her in-laws differing political views, but also in Gil’s free-spirited spontaneous musings that get trampled by his bride-to-be’s strict plans, coordinated by the too-knowledgeble Paul and his insolent, brassy comments on everything art. Gil’s escape from the materialistic mustering of Inez comes one midnight when he gets lost on his daily stroll. The clock strikes 12 and strangely an old-fashioned collector’s car rolls up the hill and some finely dressed champagne holding passengers grab Gil into the car. Unbeknownst to him, Gil enters the 1920s, sits down and converses with a Mr. Ernest Hemingway and tosses drinks back with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. He emerges from bed the next morning dazzled by the night’s happenings and is assured its reality when he visits the same spot that night.

Gil enters his fantasized Golden Age, talking with the likes of Picasso and Dali (exuberantly played by Adrien Brody) and even handing off the draft of his novel ironically about a 1920s memorabilia shop to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) for review. The Parisian nights suddenly turn into “guess the artist” for the bewildered Gil. Things then get romantically complicated when one of his nighttime adventures leads him to Adrienne (a seductive Marion Cotillard), the part-time lover of Picasso, who finds herself falling for this blonde haired struggling writer. Past and present collide and now complicate Gil having the time of his life.

The need to explain this magical portal is unnecessary as Cole Porter’s  swinging tunes revive the Jazz age. The illogicality of the movie doesn’t make us inquisitive of its plausibility, but rather we feel moved to accept the strange time leap at midnight with its charming way of explaining its rational unimportance to Gil’s plight. Zelda Fitzgerald feels cheated, F. Scott is hopelessly in love, and Hemingway speaks in perfect prose, all infecting their new friend Gil amidst his passionate love for Adrianna, who has some nostalgia of her own.

In the 2oo8 film Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Allen’s cinematic genius was portrayed not just in the story, but in the gasping shots of Spain’s countryside and marvelous tourist city. His shots make each city he films dazzle with color and life, even the dark alleys and side streets. MIP’s opening credits alone offer a beautiful, unpaid advertisement for the city of love, if it needed one already, every corner glowing its Parisian hospitality. Allen’s other genius lies in his Larry David-like ability to connect every little subplot. His seamless infusion of golden light in direct accordance with Gil’s golden age desire warmly touches every inch of the screen. Gil’s own novel centers on a nostalgia shop of the era he currently walks in, something that puzzles Ms. Stein but nonetheless makes her more curious of this awkward looking gentleman.

That is an appropriate descriptor of Gil, who refers to his own poetic dialogue as simply babbling. However, Owen Wilson’s crooked nose and un-tourist-like reveling of back streets  musters the sweet swagger only a struggling novelist might acquire. His sympathy is acquired mainly from Inez’s cold unwillingness to acknowledge anything her husband-to-be feels like interjecting, making each night out more refreshing simply by elimination. Of course, McAdams must work for her acquisitive nature, and her now golden locks remind us of her paralleling role in Mean Girls, the hot blonde that was far and above the high school wannabe’s. Every one of her meaningless insults pushes us closer to gaining favor with Wilson’s witty reveling, tacky blazer prowess.

Gil writes about memorabilia, the memories that frozen objects contain. Yet it’s the memories that ultimately connect us with others, and instead of living them, they must be enjoyed in our present. When they are not, they lose their past spark, and we float away never satisfied, only searching for their unobtainable figment of timely content. Paul speaks about people’s passions for the past and explains the present’s illusive way of satisfying us. The present has this self-defeating state of unworthiness that disallows us to compare or give current moments and people the credit to challenge equal historic legends, when indeed the credit is often deserved. We look negatively at our current status and positively into our previous history and yet never become aware of it in our busy lives. Tea-partyers, the group of people used in Gil’s insults toward his potential in-laws, have a similar problem, wanting America to go back to the good ol’ days of the 1950s and 60s. Yet they forget the negatives of people living in the present that time, the wars, the absence of women’s rights, and that blaring racial divide.

Gil’s thrust into 1920s nostalgia holds less of an impact but sends just an equal message. Witty, clever, and yes, charming, Midnight is a mesmerizing flick, especially for the  literary astute. It makes living in present Paris a pretty positive place, even when it rains.


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