Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Midnight in Paris [2011]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Midnight in Paris (written and directed by Woody Allen) is a fun film that probably would be enjoyed by anyone who’s ever dreamed of living in another “golden" era.

Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is a successful but unhappy Hollywood screen-writer who's long felt that he "sold out" and would much prefer trading-in his celluloid success for some serious writing.  He finds himself on vacation in Paris with his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) where they meet-up with her parents, John (played by Kurt Fuller) and Helen (played by Mimi Kennedy).  Future father-in-law John had come Paris on a business trip to sell "the Frogs" some stuff, but it's obvious that John hates the place.  Gil, instead, falls in love with Paris, even its rain, while the rest, including his fiancé just want get their business done, buy stuff and go back to the States.  Worse, Gil and Inez run into a couple of Inez’ friends, Paul (played by Micahel Sheen) and Carol (played by Nina Arianda).  Paul, like similar characters in other Woody Allen films, is extremely knowledgeable (to the point of arguing with a tourguide (played by Italian actress and current French first lady Carla Bruni), but (1) can’t shut up and (2) after all his fact spewing is taken away, just doesn’t “get” where he is, PARIS, and certainly doesn’t appreciate it the way Gil does.

So after a particularly awful wine-tasting party where Inez’ dad declares that anything from California’s Sonoma Valley is better the pretentious French swill that they were being served (and Paul disagees only in the details), Gil decides to “take a walk” rather than join the rest who want to go out dancing (To what? no doubt bad Anglophone music...).

Walking about, Gil finds himself at a random fountain on a random street corner in Paris when at the stroke of midnight, a 1920s-era Peugeot pulls up.  A woman holding a teetering champagne glass, dressed in 1920s flapper garb opens the window and calls him over.  She and her well-groomed partner invite him in to join them.  Inside the car, they pour him a glass and introduce themselves as Scott Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda (played by Alison Pill).  Gil does not believe them.  It's only when they come to the pub / dance hall that they were going to and introduce him to Ernest Hemingway (played by Corey Stoll), _that_ Gil spits out his drink.  The characters around Gil are _exactly_ like they were portrayed in the various biographies about them.  Zelda is spacy, F. Scott Fitzgerald is a gentleman, Ernest Hemingway can’t get way from leading every conversation back to bravery and honor...

Gil spends sometime talking to Hemingway about the novel he’s been trying to write, gets Hemingway to promise to take a look at it.  Sometime afterwards, Gil decides that he really ought to go home, says his goodbyes, steps out of the bar, turns the corner then realizes that he didn’t set where he was supposed to meet Hemingway to show him his unfinished novel.  Returning to the bar, he finds that the bar had turned back into an all-night laundromat.  Still, what a night!

The next evening, Gil makes an excuse to take a late night walk again, and heads, manuscript in hand, to the same fountain on the same street corner and is met at the stroke of midnight by the same Peugeot.  This time, Hemingway’s in the Peugeot.  Gil hands him the manuscript.  Hemingway turns it down saying, “Don’t ever give another writer your manuscript.  If it’s terrible, he’ll hate it.  And if it’s good, he’ll hate it even more. I’ve got someone better for you to show your manuscript to...” And so they head over to Gertrude Stein’s (played by Cathy Bates).  When they come over to her flat, she’s busy arguing with Pablo Picasso (played by Marcial di Fonzo Bo) over a painting he was making of an altogether unassuming model named Adriana (played by Marion Cotillard). 

I mention all this because Gil then hits it off with Adriana and much of the rest of the movie is about Gil balancing two relationships in two different eras until it all eventually gets resolved.  In the meantime on his midnight adventures, Gil gets to meet all sorts of other famous personalities of Paris in the 1920s including Josaphine Baker (played by Sonia Rolland), T.S. Elliot (played by David Lowe), and Salvador Dali (played by Adrien Brody).  Indeed, one of the funniest scenes in the movie involves Gil explaining his apparent time-traveling journey to Salvador Dali and two other Surrealists, Man Ray (played by Tom Cordier) and Luis Buñuel (played by Adrien de Van).  Man Ray responds “I see a picture,” Buñuel “I see a film.”  Dali, “I see a rhinoceros.” LOL ;-)

Adriana, however, is not happy in the "Paris of the Lost Generation" (the 1920s).   She dreams of “Paris of the Belle Époque” (the 1890s).  And lo and behold, one evening as Gil and Adriana are sitting ourdoors at a random café on a random street in Paris of the 1920s, a horse and carriage roll up and call to Adriana to come in.  Gil and Adriana take the invitation and soon find themselves taken by the couple inside to a "salón" of the times.  Soon they make their way to the Moulin Rouge where they meet Toulouse Lautrec (played by Vincent Menjou Cortes) and soon meet Paul Gaugin (played by Olivier Rabourdin) and Edgar Degas (François Rostain), who they find dream of “what it must have been like to live in the Renaissance.”

The movie resolves itself in typical, gentle but funny Woody Allen fashion (and yes there is a point to the tale).  Most importantly, one is left with a 100 minute masterpiece that will tickle the heart of any arts, literature and/or history student and will offer a “cliffnotes” video-stroll to _any_ high school kid struggling with a term paper about the writers and artists presented in this film.

I’ve been a Woody Allen fan since my college days.  I’ve long explained to friends that Allen’s movies (especially in recent years) are a “hit or miss” affair with about ½ “hitting” and the other half, well ... In this case however, I believe that he hit a bulls-eye.  Indeed, as amazing as Woody Allen's career has been, I do believe that this film is _certainly_ one of his best.  And it may well be that in the future it'll be said that Midnight in Paris was the capstone of his career.  I'll still be going to Allen's films as they come out, but it's hard for me to imagine that he'll do any better this one.  Congrats!

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