Monday, July 4, 2011

A Review of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris

Credit: Yahoo! Movies

Woody Allen's been criticized throughout the last decade in a way he's never been criticized before (I refer only to criticism of his movies, not his personal life). Critics feel Allen's movies haven't been good since the 1980s or early 90s--they argue his movies are essentially "rinse-recycle-repeat." When the new millennium arrived, Woody Allen didn't follow the rest of America into the 21st century. 

The most common criticism of his last eight or nine movies (with Match Point the exception and, possibly Vicky Cristina Barcelona) has been the characters. Specifically, the main character draws criticism because Woody Allen continues to write the "Woody Allen" character even though that character enjoys the music of Cole Porter; the books of Tolstoy, Joyce, Hemingway; the paintings of Picasso and Monet. Woody Allen's interests are perceived as fossils--critics argue that no male or female in their mid-to-late 30s or early 40s have interest in attending operas, discussing art or listening to the compositions of Gershwin or Porter.

However, young individuals exist who appreciate the music of Gershwin and Porter, the works of Joyce and Hemingway, and the paintings from Monet and Picasso. One associates such young people with the words 'pretentious' or 'blow hard' but I'm neither pretentious nor a blow hard (well maybe a blow hard if my verbose TV reviews are evidence). Someone like Midnight in Paris' Gil Pander is a character I relate to (except for his reluctance to take on any type of Hollywood writing jobs). Gil's a man who admires the writers from another generation. He idolizes the American authors who were part of the Lost Generation--Hemingway, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Stein. Gil considers literature the zenith of artistic expression--screenplays are easy, he tells his wife, but literature commands a different kind of concentration and skill.

I, like Gil, admire and read the classic authors. Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace is the greatest novel ever written. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote prose that continues to blow the mind, prose that resonates, prose that is utterly timeless. James Joyce is the greatest western writer in history. If given the chance, I'd travel back in time to converse with the my favorite authors, which is what Gil's given the chance to do in the Woody Allen's latest film.

Gil aspires to be something more than a Hollywood screenwriter who makes good money writing forgettable films with disposable characters and simplistic plots. He wrote a manuscript in hopes he can become a great author and leave his Hollywood life behind him. The book concerns the owner of a nostalgia shop but the audience never learns anything else. Gil's surrounded by cynical people including his fiancé, his future in-laws and his pedantic acquaintance. He escapes the negative atmosphere by walking the streets of Paris at night. At midnight, a car takes him back into time where he converses with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and other iconic artists.

In the 1920s of Paris, Gil flourishes. His manuscript's read by Gertrude Stein, who offers brilliant notes to Gil that forever alters his book. He meets the beautiful Adriana whose loveliness captures and envelopes him completely. Gil dances and drinks. During the day, though, he's with a soul-sucking woman and her night-marish parents. But, at night, he's with people who understand him and appreciate him for who he is, and that's the point. Through his experiences in the 1920s, he learns how to be a writer and how to live a happy life.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is the most comparable of Woody's films to Midnight in Paris because of its shared themes of fantasy and reality. In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Mia Farrow's characters trapped in a loveless marriage during the Depression--her only escape is the local movie theater where she can watch beautiful people in exotic places on exciting adventures. One day, the handsome hero of the movie walks out of the move into reality. He and Mia fall in love, and she eventually has to choose between reality and fantasy--and she chooses reality. It's a sad ending but it works. Woody Allen movies work best when the character recognizes a grey truth like Mia Farrow's character, like Gil in Midnight in Paris. I won't reveal the ending but it's familiar and with a philosophical bent that could only be Woody's.

Gil's one of the realistic characterizations of Woody's actual persona. Fans and critics assume Woody closely resembles his neurotic characters (Alvy Singer, Issac, Boris, Joe Berlin, Danny Rose etc) but that isn't true. Sandy Bates is the most Woody Allen character of them all. Gil's a closer resemblance because Woody admires literature (he says in interviews that he's not in love with reading but he feels reading the greats is important) and one wonders if Woody, in his 70s now, wonders what would be different if he wrote a great novel instead of screenplay after screenplay. Gil shares Woody's feelings about the beauty of a rainy day. Gil shares Woody's existential angst about death and existence. Owen Wilson's the best male actor Woody's hired for the main role in a long time. There are so many Woody Allen characteristics in the role, and other actors have imitated Woody, but Wilson commands the role and makes it his own.

The look of the film's sublime, as colorful and lively as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Cassandra's Dream, Love & Death and Sweet & Lowdown. The period pieces, in particular, shine. Marion Cotillard, especially, shines in her scenes set in the 1920s. Woody's directorial choices are always great. He's not afraid to let the scene breath. He'll gladly shoot 3 minute takes without a single cut. The best scene in the film happens after Gil and Cotillard's Adriana meet. The two converse in a room, and Woody hardly leaves Marion's face. Marion Cotillard's so beautiful that I became as mesmerized by her beauty as Gil does in the scene. Her facial expressions steal the scene.

Midnight in Paris is one of Woody's best films. Sometimes, Woody's movies don't work (like 2010's You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger). Other times, his works work splendidly and Paris is one of those movies. I left the theater with a smile--it's that kind of movie.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.