Letter From The Editor - Issue 41 - September 2014

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
June 2011

Paris, je t'aime

Woody Allen's whimsical 'Midnight in Paris' is a charmingly nostalgic, bittersweet ode to an old romantic notion

Midnight in Paris
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda and Kathy Bates
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 40 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)

Woody Allen's romanticism has always been tinged with bittersweet. Or vice versa. But make no mistake about it - he is a romantic, or at least part of him is. A cynical one, maybe even a reluctant one, but a romantic all the same.

He loves to indulge in that specific strain of romanticism which can only be found at the movies. Sure, it may just be a grand illusion, but maybe it's the filter of cinema itself that allows Allen to push his cynicism aside and simply celebrate the fantasy, and the magic, that can make any dream a dream worth living for, reality be damned.

That his characters ultimately have to face the less rosy actualities of life doesn't erase the fantasy; it simply tinges it with the poignance of memory, and loss, and hope. And he'll take that bargain; he'll take the sour with the sweet. Don't we all?

The target of his affections this time around is Paris. Not Paris as it is, of course, but the idea of what Paris is - the fanciful notions shaped by movies, poetry, old photographs. It extends beyond just the city, too, and into everything the city represents to Allen and his proxy, a struggling writer named Gil played by Owen Wilson. To Gil, Paris is magical because of every association that comes with it - the supposed cultural epicenter that helped influence and/or produce Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Buñuel, Dali, T.S. Eliot, Cole Porter and so on. (Art! Literature! Romance! Rich food and those heavy sauces!)

Gil is nostalgic for a time he never knew, but which feels mythical and enchanting and important. Surely Paris in the '20s was the place to be; surely his generation and his homeland are boring and hollow by comparison.

Well, as fate would have it, he gets to put that theory to the test. He and his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), are vacationing in the City of Light with her parents. He's an established Hollywood screenwriter, but considers himself a hack and is trying to reinvent himself as a novelist. He has little interest in spending much time with Inez's friends - namely the pretentious intellectual Paul (Michael Sheen) and his best gal Carol (Nina Arianda).

Now, before I go any further: Stop right here if you would like to go into the film as blind as possible. But there's no way to really discuss the film without getting into the twisty plot device. So yeah, you've been warned.

Anyway, Gil goes off on his own one night, getting himself lost in the streets of Paris - only to be picked up by a carriage just after the clock strikes midnight. The carriage seems like a bit of an anachronism, but that's nothing compared to the party he's ushered to moments later. Because it's at that party that he meets up with a couple who casually introduce themselves as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddlston and Allison Pill), and who introduce him to Hemingway and . . . well, just about everyone else I mentioned a few paragraphs above. And then some.

Yes, ol' Gil has transported back in time - and all too coincidentally, to the very cultural era that has dominated his thoughts and dreams.

Of course, it only lasts for a few hours at a time, and it only happens after midnight. But it becomes his regular routine. Naturally, he begins to fall for a woman, Adriana (Marion Cotillard) - though he has to fight Picasso and Hemingway for her affection.

Then again, it's not really her that he's in love with, but what she personifies. The two women in his life are less romantic leads and more representations of his own personal conflict - Inez being the boring modern world that is his station in life, Adriana the romantic old world that he wishes would consume him forever.

There's such joy and passion to Midnight in Paris, and so, so many funny moments (especially for those who will be able to catch all the references), that it's easy to ... well, want more. Maybe I'm greedy, but I wanted even more of Gil and Zelda and Ernest and Gertrude before Gil comes to his inevitable realization about his nostalgic fantasy. And yes, I wanted more Rachel McAdams - but then again, I always want more Rachel McAdams. Along with Cotillard, she joins a long, long line of Woody's great female characters, and she's a perfect foil for Gil - swept off her feet by Paul's pedantry, but not phased in the slightest by the romance of Paris. (I mean, she won't even join Gil for a casual walk in the French rain.) Loves L.A. in all its superficiality, doesn't understand all of Gil's silly romantic notions. Neurotic, sure, but - smoking hot as she may be - all wrong for Gil.

So could I have used a bit more of her? Sure. Then again, she's not the romantic lead. That distinction belongs, of course, to Paris itself.

My initial thought was that this wasn't quite major Woody Allen, and my first thought - as first thoughts often are - was dreadfully wrong. This is a classic. Here, he's letting himself go, delightfully indulging in whimsy and romance, and ultimately landing on insights that tie an honest, bittersweet ribbon around a dreamer's colorful cinematic fantasy.

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