Midnight in Paris (REVIEW)

8/10

Given that cinemas are currently stuffed full of crass, puerile, vacuous teen pleasing nonsense, a new release from Woody Allen comes as a refreshing, romance tinted breath of fresh air. Midnight in Paris is a gentle reminder that the perfect way to escape the infantile rom-coms, reheated thrillers and garish, visually eye-assaulting blockbusters currently polluting cinemas is, to put on some soothing jazz or agreeable Cole Porter songs, pick up a classic book by literary greats like Scott Fitzgerald, T.S Eliot and Ernest Hemingway and appreciate some vintage prose and much needed culture, then sit back relax and drift away on a blissful cloud of nostalgia.

Sure that doesn’t sound appealing now but watch Midnight in Paris and I guarantee you’ll google a jazz radio station and promise yourself a trip to the bookstore the following day. A film with the power to make sophistication alluring, can only be viewed as a good thing. So here I am, tuned into an internet jazz channel, feeling replenished and inspired, writing about the charm of Midnight In Paris and promising myself to be more cultural minded from now on.

That’s the kind of mindset Owen Wlison’s Hollywood script writer adopts when he visits Paris with his fiance and her family in Woody Allen’s latest film. Surrounded by the timeless romance of the elegant Parisian streets, and the rich, soul-replenishing culture that defines the city, Wilson feels inspired and passionate again, which leads him to fantasize about moving from his home in L.A to  settle in Paris in the hope of refining a book he is writing, tellingly about a nostalgia shop owner. He wonders what life was like in the twenties. Thanks to the powers of the universe for reasons unknowable, he is transported to the golden age he yearns to be a part of, on the stroke of midnight, Cinderella style. He rubs shoulders with his literally heroes and meets famous artists as they paint their masterpieces and he strikes a rapport with an unlikely love interest, but will he learn anything from the wonderful experience?

Groundhog day made it possible for characters to be transported to another time or place without any explanation. Somehow the lack of explanation in Groundhog didn’t cause time and place switches to be ludicrously illogical, and therefore alienating but instead added to the mystery and enchantment. After Groundhog day, we were willing to suspend disbelief whenever, someone switched bodies or walked into another age – we go along with it now, rather than question the brazen lack of explanation. Usually, it’s a trick that lazy writers abuse. You can use it to say, get two men to talk about how they yearn for each others lives whilst pissing into a fountain and set-up a shameless and creepy scenario where they can ‘hilariously’ sleep with each others wives or girlfriends without fear of an adultery lawsuit – hilarious.

Woody Allen takes the idea and uses it as passage to Woody Allen world. A world where men and women exchange dry, intellectual flirtations, arty mood lighting sets the romantic atmosphere and everyone can draw on their encyclopedic knowledge of a whole century of art culture, music and literature. Well every Woody Allen film is like that but this time, the switch-up means, that these intellectuals are the icons of the golden age.

Yes, this is Woody’s Allen’s way of escaping the confusing idiocy and decadence of the modern world and passing into a time more pleasing: Paris in the twenties. Perhaps this is Woody Allen’s comforting fantasy which eases his much explored fear of death.

Midnight in Paris feels like Woody Allen stumbled across the old Nicholas Lyndhurst BBC sit-com Goodnight sweetheart and started fantasizing about what it would be like if he could do what the character does in that old sit-com: wander back into the golden age. So Woody Allen, sorry, his surrogate screen version of himself embodied by Owen Wlison is transported back in time, and gets to exchange ideas and spend time with Hemingway, T.S Eliot, Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso and  Salvador Dali: an amusingly bizarre cameo by Adrian Brody.

Allen reinvigorates a tired cliche here. He uses the scenario to create some wonderfully dry comedy as Wilson’s character uses his experiences spent in the ethereal Paris he discovers to trump pompous art-know-it-alls applying his personal first hand knowledge in the present. High-concept plus high art equals a high laugh count.

Now in a Woody Allen film, beautiful blonds have knowledge of high art that could land them a job in a London art gallery, so they will happily stand around in art galleries, reverentially nodding while some pseudo-intellectual bores pontificate all their knowledge about pieces of art. Men don’t fight for their women in Woddy Allen movies, no they play pretentious games of one-up-man-ship and smugly try and woo women with their superior knowledge of obscure bourgeois culture. Michael Sheen plays one such character and Allen uses him to gently poke fun of Allen’s own style of comedy and characters in his large body of work. It’s funny and makes the film seem ironically pretentious rather than just pretentious.

It isn’t all dry laughs, and sophisticated fantasy though. There is a nice message about the nature of nostalgia. Allen clearly appreciates the majesty of the past, but he realizes the futility of a life of pure nostalgia. It’s a message which offers incite into the dangers of measuring the imperfections of the modern world with the myths permeating yesteryear. A message underlined and cleverly delivered in the films most comic scene.

Sure, it’s an unashamedly rose-tinted view of Paris, but in a way that’s the point of the film. It’s a smart way of justifying the chocolate box view of Paris we all know. It wouldn’t work if it was set in the dangerous outskirts of Paris and played against a backdrop of racial tension. That Midnight in Paris would be a different more suited to a director like Luke Besson, so just enjoy Allen’s glossy look at Paris and can-can the cynicism.

Allen’s latest film is a charming, understated, subtle comedy with substance, culture and an invitingly vintage romantic atmosphere. He’s been making these kind of films for nearly forty years but there is still magic in Allen’s formula. Midnight in Paris is a much needed spoonful of sugary, but soothing, sharp sophistication.

Rating: 8/10

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About Filmfella Darren
Film critic, writer and long-time cinema appreciator. I write about cinema matters, because cinema matters. Like your clothes and your laptops, my articles were made in Taiwan.

2 Responses to Midnight in Paris (REVIEW)

  1. Good review and a solid conclusion. Have a read at the review on my blog,

    http://pgtipsonfilms.com/2011/10/19/midnight-in-paris-review/

    What do you think?

    • Enjoyed your review and as with FilmFella Darren’s, agreed with the points therein. Also, didn’t notice the Carla Bruni cameo – good spotting!

      Considering I find Woody Allen generally very hit and miss, coupled with the fact I hate Paris (personal experience), my enjoyment of Midnight In Paris was understandably surprising. I think it’s true that we are all looking for a personal Golden Age (as you said in your review) and 1920’s Paris certainly looked appealing. And even with the whole ‘rose tinted spectacles’ thing, I think that some people would actually fit in better in a different time period.

      Thanks for visiting The Filmfellas!

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