Film Review: A mediocre but pleasant night in Paris
By Emma Plant
It’s easy to be cheesy, and cheesy and Woody Allen go hand-in-hand like his wax model and Madame Tassaud. Woody’s most recent film noir is Midnight in Paris (film noir is only referring to the word ‘midnight’ here).
Owen Wilson is the protagonist who plays a screenwriter turned novelist, Gil. Gil is engaged to an upper class, snobby blonde, named Inez (Rachel McAdams, who evidently plays an excellent villain). Gil has two main existential crises: he is not sure if his novel writing is decent, and he wishes he lived in the golden years, specifically Paris, 1920. Fate has a magical way of condoling Gil and his concerns. While sitting upon a stair and pondering his problems, the spirit of Paris sends the past (via a car) his way to teach him about what matters.
In this magical, time-travelling car, Gil is greeted by none other than Earnest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and his lover Zelda. He is later introduced to Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Man Ray, Salvador Dali and a smarmy love twist (Marion Cotillard). Gil capitalizes on his newfound friendships (as you would), seeking advice and philosophy. Every night he goes back to the stair and waits for the car like Cinderella. His sanity is verified as the car continues to make the Gil Stop.
Much of the plot seems quite naive. It introduces some beautiful and complex historical characters, yet the portrayal of these ‘movers and shakers’ only prods at the cusp of their depth and significance. The film is tailored for a mass audience; consequently, they only really receive a shallow, light-hearted rendition of these troubled characters. What better way to create access to these characters (and their ideals) than Owen Wilson, the accessible rambler? He asks questions and observes as a common man.
Woody Allen's trademark issues of male insecurity and existential crises are projected onto Gil's disgruntlement when the intellectual Paul (Michael Sheen) enters the scene. But those inferiority issues are soon laid to rest as a bevvy of beauties enter Gil's world to join him on his cerebral endeavour and soothe his manly misgivings. Refreshingly, none of them sleep with him. But they do serve as pleasant distractions; angelic, almost, as they lead him to still waters, a restful assurance that he's on the right path.
Besides the charming Cotillard in her flapper dresses, there's the immaculate Carla Bruni playing a tour guide in neutral separates and the requisite ingenue with translucent skin Lea Seydoux selling records by the Seine. To Allen's mind, women are irresistibly attracted to the troubled man. Juxtaposed with the turbulent, demanding American Inez, these women are the easy-breezy Gallic escape: male fantasy to the nth degree.
One factor that significantly buttresses Midnight in Paris is that Paris is a character in its own right, as with his 1979 film Manhattan. Thanks goodness for that, too, for without the natural ambiance of the setting, Midnight in Paris would completely lack authenticity. While the characters are quite lovely, and there are a few engaging monologues, it still lacks meat. The screenplay seems as if it was written by a first year Arts student who read a few substantial books then dropped out to make a movie.
The ultimate message Woody pushes is to not revel in the bygone days: apt words from a man who is coming of age. Despite Midnight in Paris’ cheesiness, it is worth your ticket stub. Naive yet quaint, entertaining yet milky, it serves as a reasonable way to spend two hours.
Emma @ Girl With a Satchel