Thursday, June 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I exited the theater last night with Cole Porter playing in my head. It was 11:15 p.m. and a beautiful night; barely anyone on the streets, and as I made my way up to the bus stop, I noticed the bright full moon, and the dim glow of the street lights, and the distant silhouettes of dancers at the corner mambo room. Wallingford was all of the sudden covered in a romantic haze--and this probably had to do with the fact that I'd just seen Midnight in Paris.

It starts out as a visual love letter to Paris (which totally reminded me of the opening of Manhattan). Beautiful shot after shot of the city... Men playing bocce ball in the Parc du Champ de Mars, the Louvre's glass pyramid at sunset, Parisian side streets pelted by rain, and the money shot of the lit-up Eiffel Tower at night. One cannot help but wistfully smile to themselves... Woody Allen reminds his borderline cynical American audience that yes, Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Some may find Owen Wilson an odd choice as a lead in a Woody Allen film, especially in the oh-so classic neurotic protagonist role that Allen himself created. He even wears the same thing Allen always wears! The button-down plaid shirt, tweed jacket, belted khakis sort-of-look. Geek chic, people.

But I thought Wilson was really great, proving that he can do more than the obnoxiously over-the-top comedy films (Hall Pass, ahem). I loved his looks of utter surprise and confusion as he enters another world--another time, really...

So a little bit about the plot if you don't know: Wilson's character Gil Pender, and his uptight fiance Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, are visiting Paris with her parents. Wilson is a Hollywood writer who is now trying to break in to the world of novels. Inez is not supportive of him at all, and also doesn't see Paris the way Gil sees it, through the lens of a hopeless romantic, longing to know what life was like when the American expats were all feeding off of each other's creativity... Maybe it's this longing that inexplicably sends him back in time (not in a ridiculous Hot Tub Time Machine kind of way, mind you); he's just sort of beckoned into an old Peugeot by some Frenchies in flapper costumes and ends up at a party... where Cole Porter is crooning at the piano! And Zelda (Alison Pill) and Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) sweep Gil up and take him on a champagne-fueled ride; they arrive at a nearly empty bar, where Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), yes, Ernest Hemingway, is sitting alone, brooding, with a bottle of wine (my god, if the real Hemingway resembled the actor in the film at all, wow, what a man).

(At this point, I'm cracking up because Hemingway is being soooo Hemingway, talking about courage and truth and what is real and war and dying. He's speaking the way that he wrote and it's just making my English lit. major brain erupt with laughter. Yes, my brain was laughing. And my mouth. Deal with it.)

Gil is just dumbfounded to be surrounded by these amazing figures from the past, but goes along with it because he's in the golden era--the Jazz Age, the 1920s! He's a little drunk, yes, but it's really happening! And he goes back every night after that to meet more people like Gertrude Stein (played by Kathy Bates), Salvador Dali (played by Adrien Brody), Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse... He also meets the lovely Adriana, played by Frenchy Marion Cotillard, who is the muse/mistress to Picasso, and tells Gil of her previous artiste affairs with Modigliani and Braque. They have an instant connection, and Gil begins to question his relationship with Inez.

So would you go back in time to a "better" era if you could? I think we sometimes put the past on a pedestal, thinking that it was perfect "back then" (whatever "back then" you may be dreaming of). But that's the great thing about Paris: it's somehow remained this golden city, still a place to find la vie boheme. Artists and writers continue to flock there for inspiration. And as Gil expresses in the film, everywhere you look around the city is a work of art.

I remember when I first got to Paris via train from Frankfurt, Germany. It was the end of my European study trip, and Paris was the cherry on top of the travel experience. It's a place you can easily build up in your mind, thanks to movies like An American in Paris, songs sung by Edith Piaf, and photographs taken by Robert Doisneau. When I exited the Gard du Nord, I couldn't believe it: Paris was everything I had imagined. Nothing disappointed. It was the most magical city I'd ever been to (although I unfortunately did not run into either Oscar Wilde or Simon de Beauvoir).

Allen makes us want to live that Parisian lifestyle, joie de vivre and all that jazz, falling in love at every turn of the corner. No one else makes movies like he does. He's why I go to the movies.


Adam K said...

I really really want to see this movie. I mean, it's probably no "Shanghai Noon", but I'll at least give it a chance.

Marisa said...

I'm a fan of Woody Allen films and I can't wait to see how he showcases Paris in his film like he usually does for NYC. Once again, an amazing review!

Hi, I'm BeckyJo said...

I love the way you talk about movies! Sometimes I would never think to see them if it wasn't for your blog. So, thanks. :)

Allie said...

See it, Adam! (PS: I'd totally see it again)

Thanks Marisa and BeckyJo for your kind words!

Lana said...

loveleh review! And I lived a hop skip and a jump from Gare Du Nord. Le sigh, I think a Paris trip may be on the cards. Can't wait to see the film :)

wildchild said...

oh goodness. you make it sound so dreamy. can't wait until it makes it to my theater here in it's original english form.