Review: Midnight in Paris
In 1977 Woody Allen released his timeless masterpiece, Annie Hall, affirming his status as a top-rate auteur. A year later his colleague Terrence Malick did the same with the beautiful Days of Heaven. Now 34 years later, the two are releasing highly acclaimed films within a week of each other. Malick’s Tree of Life has won the Palm d’Or while Allen’s Midnight in Paris is holding a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Yes, nearly three-and-a-half decades have passed by and the two are still the most intelligent and thought-provoking minds putting their ideas on celluloid. That’s about all they have in common. Since Days of Heaven, Malick has released a total of three films, while Woody has pumped out a whopping 35. Malick tells stories that ponder the meaning of life through visual metaphors and poetic monologues, while Woody does it through dialogue and performances.
Midnight in Paris is indeed a treat, right on par with Match Point and Vicki Christina Barcelona as the best work of Allen’s recent career. I believe that part of the reason for Allen’s artistic resurgence is that he has left New York and chosen the bustling cities of Europe as his canvass instead.
With Match Point he went to London and then to Barcelona for Vicki Christina. Now with Midnight in Paris the poet-laureate of Manhattan takes on The City of Light. Like 1979′s Manhattan, Paris begins with a montage of the city set to music. It feels like Allen is claiming the place as his own.
Owen Wilson, who is the perfect choice to take on “the Woody Allen character”, plays the hero. He is a successful Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of moving to Paris and finishing his novel. Visiting Paris with his stunning, yet bitchy fiancé (Rachel McAdams) and her parents, he begins to question their relationship while fantasizing about being accepted amongst his literary idols.
Wilson is the right choice for many reasons. As a screenwriter himself (he co-penned Bottlerocket, Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums), he can relate to the character. Wilson as an actor is not only believable, he is extremely likable. This is a departure from the nihilistic Manhattanite that Allen himself portrays. Owen is to Allen as Mastroianni was to Fellini.
A running gag throughout the film is that Owen’s character Gil is constantly downgraded and joked on by his fiancé and her accomplices. Her tea-party parents think he is an idiot and have no respect for his lifestyle as a writer. She forces him to engage socially with a college friend who she openly tells him is more masculine and intelligent.
As if in a Fellini picture, Gil escapes these people every night to live in a fantasy world where he is celebrated by the greatest artists of the 20th century. Actually, it may not be fantasy at all. Did I mention this is a time-travel film?
Midnight in Paris could have easily been made along with Annie Hall and Manhattan back in the 70s, which was the greatest era of cinema. Or was it? There are still great artists making movies today. Woody Allen is one of them. Allen, who claims he has never watched one of his movies after their release, makes it clear with this picture that he is not going to get caught up in nostalgia. The great confusion and uncertainty of the present is a glorious thing. Let’s enjoy it.