Beginning with this entry, I’ve decided to take a new approach. I’m going to look up the critic reviews summary page on Metacritic for the film, pick out the review I think is closest to the mark, and simply react to it. In this case, the film I’ve chosen is a recent Woody Allen effort called Midnight in Paris.
The protagonist of Midnight in Paris is Gil, played remarkably well by Owen Wilson. Gil, an American writer vacationing in Paris, finds himself magically transported to the roaring 20’s, complete with all the places and personages one would expect to find in Paris at that time. Indeed, a large part of the fun of the film is meeting–and trying to recognize–all the writers and artists who congregated in Paris during the 1920’s. There are in-jokes to be sure, but where it comes to the actual people (Hemingway, Stein, Ftizgerald, etc.), Allen provides us names, so it’s not too burdensome, and clearly some of the actors had a lot of fun with it. Adrian Brody, in particular, stands out as Salvador Dali.
The film earned a decent score on Metacritic, garnering a “universal acclaim” of 81 (based on 41 reviews) and a 7.7 user score. Several of the reviews focus on the film as a charming homage to Paris and/or an extension of what Allen did in Purple Rose of Cairo, and certainly the film succeeds in painting an alluring picture of Paris. But Steve Persall, who reviews for the Tamp Bay Times, I think hits closest to the mark. “Allen,” writes Persall, “eventually gets to the heart of [the] matter: the allure and danger of nostalgia.” It’s easy to imagine how much better our lives would have been in, for example, 1920’s Paris precisely because we were not there. “Gil’s obsession with the past,” he explains, “prevents him from living a satisfying present, and that,” he concludes, “means trouble for the future.” Persall here, I think, is spot on. But one would be mistaken to think the film is melancholy. Beyond merely recognizing this allure and danger, Gil, in a fun twist that comes toward the end of the film, must in fact confront it directly. He does so and is the better for it, learning through this experience to accept life’s imperfections and to dispel any illusions that, if we could but transport ourselves to another time and place, things would necessarily be better. Gil not only comes back to reality, he does so a bit wiser and with a bit more self-knowledge, with regrets, yes, but better armed against adding additional ones to the pile.
Additional Thoughts and Links:
Love this description from Persall’s review:
“Midnight in Paris is . . . the 75-year-old filmmaker’s funniest movie in years. Or not, if you prefer Hangover-style shenanigans to witty repartee about Hemingway, Dalí and other thinkers who designed early 20th century pop culture.”
I’ve never seen Hangover. Maybe it’s hilarious. I have no problem, per se, with fart jokes, but I do believe, as Persall seems to, that we will have lost something if movies such as Midnight in Paris lose all commercial viability. Persall called it a “tough sell.” I don’t doubt it. I have no idea how it did at the box office, but it probably didn’t bring in anywhere near what Hangover did. If it came to my town at all, I certainly missed it. Whatever it brought in; hopefully, it was enough.