Midnight in Paris (2011) – Directed by Woody Allen – Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Lea Saydeux, Kurt Fuller, and Mimi Kennedy.
Once upon a time there was a girl and a boy, and the boy crushed on the girl, and the girl liked Woody Allen movies, and the boy reasoned because of that it would never work out so he didn’t make a move on her.
Also, there was a boyfriend for her and a crippling sense of self-defeatism for him, but there was Woody Allen standing in the middle as the insurmountable obstacle.
Woody Allen as the insurmountable obstacle is nonsense, of course, but I think it’s a nonsense that Woody Allen’s neuroses could appreciate.
All of this is to say that while I occasionally like a Woody Allen movie, and while I have all the respect in the world for his cinematic accomplishments, Woody Allen tends to make movies that I don’t understand. (And thus, anyone who loves Woody Allen movies is someone I wouldn’t understand.) They feature people I don’t relate to, with issues I don’t have, and look at the world in a way that’s more alien to me than the biggest scumbag in Mos Eisley. I can’t stand whiners and I can’t stand neurotics and Woody Allen’s characters (and I’m largely talking here about the characters he plays) are often the king of both. Every so often a Woody Allen movie comes along that wins me over, but largely he’s a guy that makes movies that just aren’t for me.
But since it’s Catching Up with 2011 Month here at the Anxiety, and since I heard that MIDNIGHT IN PARIS has a supernatural bent, I figured I’d give it a shot.
I’m glad I did. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a wonderfully light and breezy movie about a guy caught between romanticism and reality. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is in Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her ultra-conservative parents (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy). Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter who’s trying to finish his first novel, and who’s also in love with the idea of Paris in the 1920s. The relationship between Gil and Inez is the worst part of the film, because it’s nearly unbelievable. Gil comes off as such a romantic and Inez as a shrill harpy that it’s hard to imagine them as a real couple. You can maybe see how they once got together since she’s domineering and he’s passive, but at this point they’re clearly coming apart at the seams. The real problem with the conception of their relationship, however, is that Allen makes Inez so awful and Gil so likable that you’re never rooting for their relationship to work.
Fortunately, their relationship isn’t Allen’s focus, which is why he can sort of get away with making Inez such an awful person.
The focus here is on Gil, a guy who’s caught between the life he has and the life he wants. Gil wants to believe in the romantic ideal of Paris. He wants to walk the streets in the rain and simply soak up the atmosphere. It would be easy to say that MIDNIGHT is a love letter to Paris, but I think that’s a lazy take on the film. MIDNIGHT isn’t about the actual Paris as much as that idealized romantic notion of Paris as a muse for artists. Gil’s idea of the perfect Paris is the Lost Generation, 1920s version of the city, when seemingly all the famous artists in the world were hanging about the city being all legendarily artistic.
Owen Wilson is utterly charming as the Californian, self-described hack trying to write a “real” novel. With his Tattooine-era Luke Skywalker haircut and passive disposition, Gil is walking out of step with Inez and her parents. Making matters worse for Gil is the presence of Paul (Michael Sheen), an intellectual who doesn’t know nearly as much as he projects. Inez clearly has a schoolgirl crush on Paul and keeps agreeing to go out with him and his girlfriend instead of wanting to do what Gil wants to do – which is basically to walk around the city and lose himself in nostalgia for an era that was never his.
After parting ways one night – Inez goes dancing with Paul and his girlfriend and Gil goes for a walk through the city – Gil ends up getting lost and sits down on some steps. When the clock strikes midnight, an old-timey car pulls up and invites him inside. Before Gil realizes exactly what’s going on, he’s partying with the Fitzgeralds (Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill), listening to Cole Porter (Yves Heck), yapping with Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and giving his novel to Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) for feedback.
Gil doesn’t really try to figure how he can be transported back to the 1920s every night, but he keeps going back. At the Stein residence, he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the current lover of Pablo Picasso, and he becomes smitten with her. His trips to the past become centered around Adriana, and his time in the present becomes an increasing chore for him. There’s a really funny scene where he offers a different take on one of Picasso’s paintings, basically repeating to Paul and Inez what Gertrude Stein had said to him the night before.
The movie gets a bit lost in the past, but then, so does Gil. It gets a bit distracting for new historical figures to keep popping up, as I’d rather keep hanging with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Stein, but psychologically Gil needs to run through all of his artistic associations with Paris for him to finally realize he needs to change his present. His breakthrough comes when he and Adriana end up in the Belle Époque era, and Adriana decides she wants to stay. Gil realizes that everyone romanticizes previous eras, and that ultimately you can’t live in the past, but must make the best of the present.
Back in his reality, Gil tells Inez that he’s breaking up with her because she’s slept with Paul and he’s going to stay in Paris. Inez and her parents think this is absurd, but Gil is content with his decision and the repercussions. The film ends with him having a chance encounter with Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux), who works at an antique shop, a profession similar to the main character of Gil’s novel.
While I don’t want to overstate how good MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is, I will say that it left me feeling a lot better about life. It’s a tremendously reaffirming movie about following your own path and being true to who you are, and it just kept making me smile.
As for that girl the boy was too chicken to hit on? Turns out she didn’t even have a boyfriend when his crush was in alignment. Whoops. As with Gil and Gabrielle, however, things ended up working out. She met the Most Greatest Guy Ever and he met the Girl He Would Have Cheated On Her With.