Monday, June 06, 2011

Midnight in Paris

A fine return to more mellow form for Woody, Midnight in Paris is a wonderful watch with a Stella Artois in hand. The cinematography is lush and beautiful, few filmmakers since the new wavers in the 60's have made Paris look as good and the humor is mostly loose and funny. It's nowhere near among his best but with this filmmaker that nonetheless means a wonderful and groovy film, better than almost anything that you can hope to see in theaters this year.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter with hopes of becoming a respectable novelist, a romantic soul who loves taking long walks in Paris in the rain and a hopeless nostalgic, someone who believes he would have been much happier being born in a different era. In Gil's case that era is 1920's Paris, the time of Hemmingway's moveable feast when artists, poets and thinkers from all over the world gathered in the city of lights to drink and create and drink some more. Gil, who is set to marry his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) after their trip, is somehow magically transported to this era after a night of being somewhat over served at a wine tasting. The film transitions to this realm of the romantic past in an effortless and smooth fashion, a cinematic equivalent to the magical realism of South American novelists. No explanations are needed here. If one drinks a bit of red wine and needs spiritual guidance on a rainy evening in Paris then Ernest Hemmingway will appear in a 1927 Peugeot. Everyone knows this for a fact.

The film is at its best with Gil in the past. McAdams is hopelessly miscast as are her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). They are supposed to be stereotypical right-wingers and certainly come off as such but there's not a shred of character or even an attempt at one in any of them. Worse, their delivery falls flat. Woody simply got lazy there, probably having too much fun writing dialogue for his romanticized versions of Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and Dali. Those three characters are especially delicious, played to comical perfection by Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll and Adrian Brodey, respectively. Kathy Bates also has a nice turn as Gertrude Stein and Marion Cotillard provides a lovely love-interest for Gil, especially as he realizes that his modern day girlfriend is nothing but bad news. Cotillard is so lovely that she hardly has to act; she could provide proof for God's existence all on her own. Only an all-Good and all-Loving artisan could fashion eyes so deep and beautiful.

The cinematography by Darius Khondji and Johanne Debas is fantastic and Woody moves the story along at a very pleasing pace. There's plenty of shortcomings and even holes in the script and the whole film has an air of being a more pleasant affair than really being artistically good but that's almost a part of the charm. No one's trying too hard here and they don't have to. It's the kind of film that is perfectly accompanied by your favorite form of ethanol.

An especially pleasing aspect is that Woody seems to be moving away a bit from his philosophical fascination with nihilism. As good as Match Point was it seemed to move Woody towards darker spiritual implications than even Crimes and Misdemeanors had suggested. Films such as Whatever Works seemed to be swimming in similar waters but Woody here returns to territory more akin to Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. Even though he still struggles with the great mysteries of life to the extent that any grand meaning or purpose is ill-conceived at best there is nonetheless purpose to be found in the small pleasures of life. There is always Groucho Marx and Louis Armstrong's rendition of "Potato Head Blues." And Midnight in Paris. Especially in the rain.

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